Posted in Science & Nature

The Loneliest Whale

In 1989, an array of US Navy hydrophones (underwater microphones) in the North Pacific Ocean discovered a peculiar sound. It sounded very similar to a typical whale song, but there was a crucial difference. Most whales sing at about 10-40Hz, which is a very low frequency sound. However, this specific whale song played at 52Hz – significantly higher than other whale songs.

Bill Watkins was a scientist who became fascinated by this sound. He detected the same sound year after year for over a decade and recognised that it was coming from the same whale. It followed seasonal migration patterns and the song had definite, common features of whale songs. But this song was higher pitch than every other whale he compared it to.

This whale has since been called the “52-hertz whale”, also known as “the world’s loneliest whale”. There have been no other recordings of whale songs like it. There are many theories about what kind of whale it might be, with the leading theory being that it is a hybrid of a blue whale and a fin whale. Because hybrid animals (crossbreeds) have different body morphologies to the parent species, theoretically it could produce a unique sound.

Whales sing to communicate with each other. In the vast ocean, sight becomes easily obscured, but the low-pitched vocalisations of whales can carry on for hundreds of miles. This raises the question of whether the 52-hertz whale’s calls are heard by other whales, given that it is talking in a different frequency range. If they can’t, there is a chance that this whale is calling out into the void, only to be ignored by every other whale. It might have been swimming alone for decades, in search of a partner who can communicate with it.

In some ways, we are all somewhat like the 52-hertz whale. Because we are all unique individuals, even when we talk in the same language, we often misinterpret each other or fail to make a connection because we cannot understand their way of thinking. This is why when you meet someone who thinks on a similar frequency to you, it is a connection worth holding on to. There is no greater thrill than meeting another soul who you can say one thing to and they will understand ten things.

These are the kinds of relationships you should treasure, because for all you know, you may end up like the 52-hertz whale – drifting along the deep blue ocean, desperately calling out in hopes of hearing any kind of reply.

(Image source:

Posted in History & Literature


The Faroe Islands are a group of islands between Scotland and Iceland in the North Atlantic Ocean. Although a small nation, they are known to the outside world for their tradition of whaling – specifically pilot whales that are native to the North Atlantic Ocean. The media often show photos of bloody shorelines with a line of whale carcasses, decrying the so-called “inhumane hunting” of the whales. The dramatic scene and cuteness of the whales seems to appeal to the masses and has caused quite a controversy regarding the Faroese tradition, known as grindadráp. However, the media often tells a misinformed story regarding the whaling. One thing to know is that Faroese whaling is fundamentally different to whaling seen in other parts of the world, such as Japanese whaling. 

The Faroese have been killing pilot whales for food for the past millennium and have done so in the most humane and sustainable way possible. Despite popular belief, the pilot whales are not endangered and in fact overpopulated in the North Atlantic Ocean. As they are carnivorous, an overpopulation of the whales causes a shortage in fish. Fishing is the major industry in the Faroe Islands and constitutes their livelihood; so ironically, the pilot whales can endanger the Faroese people by consuming all the fish in the surrounding sea. Thus, the Faroese kill a small portion of the whale population (roughly 0.1%, a completely sustainable rate) to balance the ecosystem while protecting their most important industry and their livelihood.

Faroese whaling is not commercial and only enough whales are killed to provide enough food for the people (equally distributed to the participating families). The killing is not for fun or money, but simply to support the lives of the people. As such, the Faroese have also come up with the most humane way to kill the animals.

When whaling season starts and the pilot whales come near the shore, “drives” are initiated where a semi-circle of boats herd nearby whales towards the shoreline (only whales near the shoreline are killed). When the whales approach the shore, the people use blunt blowhole hooks that catch the whales without causing wounds (unlike harpoons and spears) and draw them closer to shore. Only adult males are drawn in (no females or babies) and only enough that can be killed swiftly are drawn in.

Once drawn in, the men quickly use their knives to cut the spinal cord and artery supplying the brain, killing the whale within 15 seconds of being beached. It is the quickest and most painless way to kill the whales and only those who have been trained to do it properly are allowed to kill. As a major artery is cut and whales are big mammals, a large volume of blood is released, dying the sea a bloody red colour.
The whales are then divvied up equally, with no part of the whale going to waste. As only nearby whales are killed, sometimes no whales are killed for years.

Unfortunately, due to pollution in the ocean, there have been increasing levels of heavy metals such as mercury found in the whale meat. This is endangering the health of the island population and the deeply engrained tradition of grindadráp. The saddest part is that the pollution is from industrialised countries such as USA and European countries, not the Faroe Islands. Yet the Faroese have to put up with bigotry from those who do not understand the culture, process or the reasoning behind the tradition. If anything, it is by far more humane and sustainable than killing animals after a lifetime of captivity then sending them to a slaughterhouse.

It is extremely important to see the truth behind controversial issues such as this, as more often than not the truth is shrouded by bigotry and subjective comments by people who have only seen the issue through some photographs on the internet.


(Notice the single, deep horizontal slash through the dorsal aspect of the spinal cord, just before the brainstem. Such a cut would immediately sever any pain signals and cause almost instant unconsciousness due to ischaemia of the brain.)