In 1989, a team from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution first discovered calls from a lone whale at 52-hertz. The call patterns matched neither blue nor fin whales due to the abnormal frequency. Blue whales usually vocalize at 10-39 hertz while fin whales at 20 hertz. Because of this, the 52 hertz whale is sending out sonar that other whales cannot decipher, which gave it the nickname The Loneliest Whale.
Experts at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have been unable to identify the species of the whale, speculating that it could be malformed or a hybrid species, there’s also speculation that it could be deaf. Throughout the years, the mystery of 52 has been the source of inspiration for film and music. There was a short mockumentary titled The Loneliest, a 2017 Taiwanese film titled 52Hz, I Love You, and even an animated short titled The Phantom 52 which premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Now, 52 is getting a feature length documentary in The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52.
The documentary is produced by Adrian Grenier and directed by Josh Zeman of the studio Bleecker Street, both of whom successfully funded the project via Kickstarter. When the backing window ended, 3,833 backers pledged a total of $405,937 of the initial $300,000 goal. The official website also credits Leonardo DiCaprio as an executive producer. Adrian Grenier is no stranger to film both in front and behind the camera. He has appeared in films such as The Devil Wears Prada and A.I. Artificial Intelligence. His last producing credit was 2012’s How to Make Money Selling Drugs. Josh Zeman’s most famous film credit is being writer, producer and director of the urban legend documentary Cropsey.
The plot of the documentary, at its core, is all about an expedition finding the elusive whale. A team of experts, acousticians and biologists alike, set out into the pacific ocean to hopefully locate 52. The trailer also hints at a history of man’s relationship with whales. It touches on the history of the famous album Songs of the Humpback Whale, recorded in 1970 by Roger Payne, which helped give rise to the worldwide “Save the Whales” movement. The trailer also hints that there will be discussion on the effects of noise pollution on current whale populations today, which is a current big topic in marine biology, the trailer also appears to be setting up noise pollution as an obstacle for the starring crew on their journey to find 52.
While whale documentaries are pretty easy to find, The Loneliest Whale definitely swims out of the pod on the concept alone (no puns intended). 52 has been the source of inspiration for generations of artists, a mystery and sad story rolled into one. The idea of being the only one of your kind that speaks at such a frequency is enough to make audiences sympathetic and the mystery behind what species this whale could be is just enough of a mystery that is sure to grab at our curiosity. It seems like this is an expedition worth searching for.
The Loneliest Whale was expected to release in 2018 but was delayed. On July 8th, it was announced on Kickstarter that the film will be premiering in select US theaters on July 9th. The announcement also included that the film will also be available on VOD platforms shortly thereafter, as of now there is no announcement of specific services or companies that will have exclusive rights to streaming the film.