This week, we’ve had several kids in the library looking for books on various sea creatures. It’s project time! Lucky for us, we happen to have a large number of books on everything from whales to sharks to jellyfish, so the kids are leaving with two books each on whatever species they’ve chosen. (So much better than an entire class doing a project on corn–in French! Uh, our selection there is small, to say the least.)
But it reminded me of a recent story I read about a “Christmas Whale”, the loneliest whale in the ocean. This particular whale has been swimming a channel in the North Pacific Ocean since at least 1989. That’s when researchers started tracking him. A Baleen whale (a cetacean without teeth) uses sound to communicate and has a very particular vocalization frequency range (between 10 and 31 Hertz). This one, however, vocalizes at 52 hertz…much higher than the other whales in his category.
Scientists have been listening to whales in the North Pacific for years and usually pick up this particular whale’s vocalizations between August and December (which is why they call it the Christmas Whale). Here’s where it gets sad. While whales use their vocalizations to attract other whales, to find a mate or family member, no other whale on record has ever answered the Christmas Whale’s call. It simply drifts along the corridor of microphones, sending out whale-message after whale-message, only to finally swim off. Alone. Every year. Breaks your heart, doesn’t it?
It’s possible the other whales just can’t “hear” the Christmas Whale, since its song is so different. Or maybe they won’t acknowledge it, sensing it as something foreign. Either way, it must be a lonely life for C.W. You can read more about this interesting creature on the Wood’s Hole Ocean Oceanographic Institute’s page. Or you can listen to a recording of the 52 hertz whale vocalizations at at NOAA here.
So far, no one has asked about books on whales, but I’ll certainly suggest this if we get any more students in to do projects.