Posted by: The ocean update | November 9, 2015

The Search for the Loneliest Whale, What if 52-Hertz is the Rare Omura Whale ?

Spectrogram of 52 Hz "whale-like" signals, which were first reported by Watkins et al.(2000). On average these tones had a center frequency of 51.75 Hz and lasted 5-7 sec. These tones are usually produced in groups of 2-6 and were recorded in the NE Pacific.

Spectrogram of 52 Hz “whale-like” signals, which were first reported by Watkins et al.(2000). On average these tones had a center frequency of 51.75 Hz and lasted 5-7 sec. These tones are usually produced in groups of 2-6 and were recorded in the NE Pacific.

November 9th, 2015 (Maryann Avila). Social Media is a valuable tool. Sometimes questions can come from someone with a non-scientific background that might lead to the answer of a long sought after question. What Species is the Loneliest Whale, whose calls have led many, on a quest that has baffled scientists for years ? That is exactly what this article is about.. A question from a non-scientific person with a huge love for marine mammals as well as a mystery to attempt to solve.

Recently, just to satisfy my curiosity I asked that very question to a scientist friend in a private message on Facebook. Could the Loneliest Whale 52-Hertz, be really the rare Omura Whale (link) ? Thinking I would be laughed at with even having that thought as I am no whale expert by any means.

I sent my message, wondering what he would think or say. Or if he even would reply to my message. Thoughts flooded my mind. Will he think I am stupid for even comparing The rare Omura Whale to the loneliest whale. After all, this man is a sceintist. A much larger accomplishment than my own education. I began to get very nervious. Knowing full well that once you send that message there is no turning back. He is going to see it even if I delete it. Yikes… there I was.. Believing I just sent the stupidest question ever to one of the smartest people I know. I franticly decided to include the link to the recently published PDF that I had been reading about the Omura Whale hoping to give some credence to my question.

The PDF was recently published by the Royal Society open science. It is titled “Omura’s whales off northwest Madagascar : ecology, behaviour and conservations needs”, by Salvatore Cerchio, Boris Andrianantenaina, Alec Lindsay, Melinda Rekdahl, Norbert Andrianarivelo, Tahina Rasoloarijao. Published 14 October 2015.DOI : 10.1098/rsos.150301

Feeling deeply that my scientist friend must be laughing out loud while reading the question before him on his screen : Could 52=Hertz be an Omura Whale ?

While looking at the screen. I see things in a complete picture. I sat looking at the message box. He is typing me back. It seemed to take only a few moments until I got his reply..

This whale is very close morphologically to the Bryde’s whale. In that group of small to medium sized rorquals (Balaenopterids), taxonomists have been been splitting in recent decades. The whale that used to be one minke whale is now three, maybe a fourth species. What used to be one Bryde’s whale, may be three. The Pleistocene climate oscillations led to a number of speciation events, particularly with cetaceans.

“This is going to be hard to prove” I thought after reading his scientific answer,. Are they thinking that 52 hertz could be a hybrid whale? I have read that in several PDF’s and other information about 52. There is quite a lot of information online about the Loneliest Whale. 52 Hertz. This whale has become quite famous; movies, expeditions, childrens stories and even music has been written all influenced by this special whale and his lonely call. .

So I decided to question him a bit further. I believe there is no great mystery to this whales story. Maybe scientists just havent fully connected the dots to see the complete picture. Research is a valuable tool but in my opinion it takes far too long to find anything out. Seems like everything is researched for far too long , sometimes lasting so long you have forgotten what they were even researching in the first place. I needed to know: yes or no. Something is pushing me to ask. Could it really be that simple?

Totally feeling inadequate in my knowledge about whales, I had to send him another message:

I hope you are not laughing at my question. I’m no scientist, you know. So, is there a possibility that I could be right ? Could the loneliest whale be an Omura ?

I about fell back in my chair… staring at the typed words.

Sure. Remote.

My first thought was “Wow. Could you be right?” Feeling a bit frantic once again, I decided to just go ahead, after all, what do I have to loose.

I began researching those PDF’s of all the research compiled on 52 hertz as well as the new information about the Rare Omura Whale that just recently was published. I found that 52 Hertz has been tracked for over 12 years now. It has a unique whale call with 50 – 52 Hz. No other calls with similar characteristics have been identified in the acoustic data recorded on any hydrophone system in the North Pacific basin. There is no overlap of calls recorded, this suggests that all calls are made from the same whale. During the 12 years of tracking this whale’s song, 52 Hertz travels in no particular manner. Meandering where ever it chooses to swim. Not like other whales who follow migratory routes.

During the past 12 years of tracking this whale, changes in this whales song has gotten deeper . A gradual 2 Hz decrease in the frequency of its calls over the years of monitoring. Suggesting 52 Hz could be maturing and traveling farther southward in a more organized migratory pattern. Below is a graph of 42 Hz travels in the Pacific Ocean as recorded by Hydrophones. Could 52hz be just lost? Searching for his pod that resides far in the south? Could his song just be out of listening reach to the other members in his family? I hate to believe that 52 Hz is the last of its species as some scientists suggest. I would rather believe that he is just out of range for his song to be heard.

Travels of 52 Hertz

Recently there has been new discoveries made in whale research. Omura Whales have been found in Madagascar. In 2003 the Omura Whale was described as a new species. Known only from stranded specimens found in the western Pacific and the Eastern Indian Ocean, until an expedition by scientists in Madagascar, where they discovered and documented living Omura’s Whales.

Scientists collected specimens from 18 adult animals confirming species identification through analyses of biopsies. Sightings indicate these whales have a preference for shallow water shelf habitat with a sea temperature between 27.4 C and 30.2 C (81.32 to 86.0 F).

Scientists believe Omura whales seem to prefer loose aggregations of predominantly unassociated single individuals spatially and temporally clustered. Virtually nothing is known about the ecology and life history of this species due the complete lack of confirmed life sightings. To date there are no field observations confirmed through genetic analysis of biopsies for live animals. So there is no complete ecological and behavioral data or even detailed description of living animals. There are recent photographs.

First-field-observations-of-elusive-Omuras-whales

Recordings were made of the Omura whale song during the expedition to Madagascar (as found in section 3.4 Acoustic data and vocal behaviour : http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/2/10/150301). Those recordings were collected with a single hydrophone suspended from the boat using a Cetacean ResearchTM CR-1 hydrophone (±3 dB from 16 Hz to 48?kHz, sensitivity of -198 dB re: 1 V?µPa-1) with variable gain pre-amplifier connected to a solid-state recorder (24 bit, 96 kHz sample rate).

Recordings made from boats in 2013 and 2014 were made in the presence of Omura whales, An ampitude-modulated (AM) low frequency vocalization was recorded.

For purposes of time/frequency measurements, 21 calls with a signal-to-noise ratio greater than 10 dB were used, measured with the RAVEN PRO 1.4 Average Power measurement in a 16–52 Hz bandwidth. Calls had an average duration of 9.2 s (s.d. 0.92 s), average peak frequency of 36.1 Hz (s.d. 6.19 Hz), average low frequency of 14.9 Hz (s.d. 5.40 Hz) and high frequency of 52.9 Hz (s.d. 2.19 Hz) and a 90% bandwidth of 25.8 Hz (s.d. 5.30 Hz). The repetition rate, measured as the inter-call interval, was 152.9?s (s.d. 16.47 s, n=37) for all sequential calls, and ranged from 134.4 s (s.d. 8.88 s, n=6) to 176.8 s (s.d. 32.01 s, n=3) within each recorded series.

So, there is my comparison between the Loneliest Whale and the Omura Whale: A high frequency of 52.9 Hz (s.d. 2.19 Hz) and a 90% bandwidth of 25.8 Hz (s.d. 5.30 Hz) for the Omura and 52Hz for the loneliest whale.

I wonder about the posability, that 52 Hz, lost its pod while still quite young, .however old enough to know how to feed. I believe although it tries very hard to locate its family members, it just does not know where to look as they are farther south than this whale has traveled. Its song is out of reach to family members. Online you can hear the Song of 52Hz, however I have not been able to find an audio of the Omura whale song, only the levels the songs were recorded at. Im sure there is probably an audio someplace. I know researchers have it, but the question is, are researchers talking to researchers ? Are they connecting the dots to the whole picture or only researching for information ?

Omura Whales have been found in other locations around the Pacific Ocean although not alive. It is not entirely impossible for one to have become lost. Yes it seems research has shown that Omura like warmer waters tan the ones found off the Pacific Northwest, however, you also have to remember this year (2015) is not the only year we have had a strong El Nino Current warm our waters that reached as far North as Alaska. Could the Loneliest Whale be an Omura? Could he/she have traveled with his/her mother on the unknown migration route of the newly discovered Omura. Whale? Could he/ she have become accustomed to the cooler temperatures of the Pacific Ocean it was left stranded in? Maybe 52 Hertz is not only lost but cold de an Omura Whale.

Further Research I am sure will be conducted by scientists who will provide many exciting much needed answers about a new species of whale. I just hope Science also realizes that this might be a rescue opportunity for 52 Hertz if in fact the whale songs can be compared and a match made. May be then, not only will this be a fascinating discovery, but an opportunity to reunite this Lost Whale with its pod. I dream of a Rescue for 52Hz. I dream of the possibility we have found this whale’s home, his family, and his song will one day be answered.

So little is known about Omura's whales that scientists are unsure how many exist or how rare the species is. To date, the team has catalogued approximately 25 individuals through photographic identifications. Credit : Courtesy of Salvatore Cerchio

So little is known about Omura’s whales that scientists are unsure how many exist or how rare the species is. To date, the team has catalogued approximately 25 individuals through photographic identifications. Credit : Courtesy of Salvatore Cerchio

Citations : Salvatore Cerchio, Boris Andrianantenaina, Alec Lindsay, Melinda Rekdahl, Norbert Andrianarivelo, Tahina Rasoloarijao. Omura’s whales (Balaenoptera omurai) off northwest Madagascar: ecology, behaviour and conservation needsRoyal Society Open Science, 2015; 2 (10): 150301 DOI : 10.1098/rsos.150301

Watkins, W. A., M. A. Daher, J. E. George, and D. Rodriguez. 2004. “Twelve years of tracking 52-Hz whale calls from a unique source in the North Pacific.” Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, MS 36, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA
Deep Sea Research Part I Oceanographic Research Papers (Impact Factor: 2.57). 12/2004; 51(12):1889-1901. DOI : 10.1016/j.dsr.2004.08.006.

About the Author.

My name is Maryann Avila and I live in the Untied States of America in the State of California. I am a wife, mother, grandmother, photographer, an advocate and activist for marine mammals and the health of our Oceans on social media. I rescue marine mammals in real life on the Central Coast. I’m no Scientist, but I love trying to solve a good mystery. We are stewards of this world for our children. We must learn to connect dots to see the complete picture. Dreams are made from the possibility of something being true.

Ed Sibylline : pride to be your podmate Maryann 😉

Other info : 405 937 $ have been fundraised for a movie about the loneliest whale !

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