A “Lonely” Whale, Needy People

I’ve long been bemused by the story of 52HZ, the off-frequency blue or fin whale that the human race somehow decided had to be lonely. It seems like such a bizarre example of how humans like to impose their own stories on animals they really don’t understand or know.

But I had no idea how many people 52HZ’s story (or the story that we assigned to 52HZ) truly mobilized and inspired until I read this story:

For all her scientific unease with the whole media circus, Daher admitted to me that, “It’s interesting, isn’t it, that people appear to identify with this whale?” There was a pattern to those who reached out to her, as if she could somehow help. “It’s amazing. I get all sorts of emails, some of them very touching, genuinely. It just breaks your heart to read some of them — asking why I can’t go out there and help this animal. We as humans, we are very softhearted, caring creatures. It’s mostly females who write to me — not always; I also get males — but there are a lot of females who identify, feeling they’re not part of a pack.”

The story is full of people who wrote plays, created art, set out to make documentaries or were otherwise inspired to take action thanks to 52HZ’s perceived loneliness. But I can’t help wondering what any of these people are really doing to help 52HZ and all the other whales who are inundated with human noise and pollution.

Are they forsaking seafood to restore ocean food chains and reduce stray fishing gear?

Are they reducing their consumption of container-shipped goods that has turned the oceans into noisy superhighways, and resulted in numerous ship strikes?

What changes to their lives have they made that might improve 52HZ’s life in some small way? I hope many (I know actor Adrien Grenier was inspired to start an ocean conservation foundation and at least struggles with the fact that his acting work celebrating conspicuous consumption is what gave him the resources to do so). A whale can’t do much with empathy.

It is the frequent disconnect between what people say they care about and what they actually do with the choices they make in their own lives that is absolutely central to what the planet will look like–and how 52HZ will fare–in coming decades.

I have a lot more changes to make (especially when it comes to carbon footprint), but in an effort to take some pressure off the oceans I stopped eating seafood years ago. I am also doing everything I can to NOT buy anything new. It makes me feel out of step with our culture. I sense my wife and kids experience a range of reaction from annoyance to mild understanding. And I have to make a concerted effort to not come off as too deranged.

But out of step is exactly where I want to be because being in step does 52HZ no good at all.

Robots And Right Whales

After using cutting-edge technology (for the time) to hunt and slaughter North Atlantic right whales to the brink of extinction, humans are using cutting edge technology to try and save them.

The latest tool in the game is an underwater robot that can hear and find whales, and then transmit their positions in near-real time:

Last month, two 6-foot-long (1.8-meter-long), torpedo-shaped robots from theWoods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts used digital acoustic monitoring equipment to detect 9 North Atlantic right whales(Eubalaena glacialis) in the Gulf of Maine—the first-ever detection of baleen whales from these types of autonomous vehicles.

“Recording the sound creates a spectrogram, which to a scientist is almost like a sheet of music that visually represents the sounds you’re hearing,” explained WHOI researcher Mark Baumgartner.

The gliders process and classify these acoustic signatures, then surface every two hours and transmit evidence of whale calls to shore-based computers while the animals are still nearby. “We can use this information to very quickly draw a circle on the map and say, hey, we know there are whales in this area, let’s be careful about our activities here. The government can then alert mariners and ask them to reduce their speed and post a lookout.”

The effort to save right whales is a battle that pits scientists and conservation groups against all the oceanic intrusions of modern human culture, with its shipping, fishing, and pollution. It is an incredibly close battle, in which single lives count. So every technological wrinkle can make a difference.