This is the final installment in a three-part series about the decades-long search for a mysterious whale whose calls have been haunting researchers for years. Part 1 can be read here and Part 2 is available here.
52 Hertz is a mystery, but so many of people’s common questions–Is he deformed? Is he really alone? Is he even really a whale?–could be answered with simple observation. Why hasn’t there been any? Why haven’t we studied 52 Hertz more closely?
For one thing, the Navy, which remains an important source of marine bioacoustics data, is not interested in finding a single benign whale. They have different things to worry about.
Then there’s the fact that even if private researchers want to use the Navy’s data for a civilian project, they would have to deal with the time lag between 52 Hertz passing the hydrophones and actually processing the data. Though the Woods Hole team had managed to construct maps of 52 Hertz’s journeys, this information had only become available miles and days after the whale had passed. The raw data has to be processed by trusted ex-Navy specialists before being handed over to NOAA or Woods Hole to be logged and analyzed further. The data also has to be declassified before researchers can release their findings to the public—even if revelations about a whale’s social status hardly seems like a threat to national security.
Not much can be done about declassifying data in a timely manner. But nowadays, the actual data-gathering process about a whale’s location seems like it could be done in the private sector in a speedy manner. After all, we have GPS tags and near-instant satellite communication, right?