The Loneliest Whale

By Joanna Langfield

What could have been a somewhat interesting scientific journey, searching for a whale on its own in the vast seas, casts even wider ripples as it hits the screen today, during a time when so many of us feel cut off from our own, lonely and hungry for community.

True confession: it’s somewhat embarrassing, as a child of a noted New England whaling city, how little I know about these amazing aquatic creatures. The deal here is that there’s this one whale, named “52 Hertz”, who scientists believe has been living in solitude, making underwater noises in a frequency different from others of his species. This film documents the scientific fascination with 52 and the men and women’s exploration to not just find him, but understand more about the species, the oceans and the people surrounding them.

Filmmaker Joshua Zeman brings a curiosity and open mind to a story that, while well meaning, feels disjointed and a bit confusing. But there is no doubting the commitment of the researchers here, or the message, and yes, there is one, that we must pay more attention to nature, the oceans and all that we find there. Because in understanding that ecosystem, we can learn its needs and maybe some, too, of our own. And while the essential nature of the beauty we see is, hopefully, eternal, the yearning for companionship is one of the lessons revealed in the science that hits particularly hard right now. Yes, the search for 52 took place before the world shut down in the pandemic, but as we watch it now, distant in many ways from one another, we can’t help but relate to that loneliest whale and root for his and our own comfort and happiness.