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Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

GUEST BLOGGER OLL LEWIS: Love Hertz

Apart from the fact that his puns are terrible and he has an obsession with the more surreal side of Internet culture, Oll Lewis hasn't put a foot wrong since we started this bloggo-thing. He is also an old softy and insisted that we wait until Valentine's Day to post this story of unrequieted love..

While I was researching the article on the bloop I came across the sad tale of a very lonely whale. The whale’s calls have been picked up on the hydrophones of the NOAA since 1989 and have been tracked since 1992, they were identified as coming from a baleen whale (whales that possess baleen plates rather than teeth, and filter feed like the blue whale) in 2000.

The calls have been recorded at 51.75 Hertz, and last for 5-7 seconds each and come in groups of 2-6 calls. The creature has been nicknamed the 52 Hertz whale. The whale’s calls are unique, blue whales and fin whales communicate between 15-25 Hz, and it does not follow the known migration route of any extant baleen whale species. With that in mind it is not surprising that the whale’s calls have never been answered, and that every year only the mating call of this single whale is recorded at that frequency. What might be sad for this, by now, very lonely and frustrated whale is good for scientists who have had the chance to study the call of one individual whale in the wild and monitor how it changes year by year, the whale’s voice has become slightly deeper over the years it has been monitored.

A team of researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, whose members have included William Watkins, one of the pioneers of marine mammal acoustics, has been studding and researching the animal and its migratory pattern using the NOAA sound surveillance system since 1989. This team has formulated several theories as to why the animal might have such a distinctive call. The Woods Hole team’s current preferred theory is that the whale is a deformed hybrid between two different species of whale, but they do not speculate upon which species of whale could have got together to produce an animal with calls at a frequency so monumentally dissimilar to other baleen whales.

Another possibility is that the whale is the last surviving member of an unknown species, or one known only from the fossil record. Scientists are often, quite rightly, cautious about proclaiming that a creature is a new species based purely on what amounts to a trace sample. An animal needs a holotype to be classified as a species and that holotype, unless due to extenuating circumstances, needs to be the body of the organism. This is because scientists need to have a good idea what the animal actually looks like to classify it as a species and something to compare other possible members of the same species too. Because trace samples like recorded sounds, faeces and footprints are merely by-products of an animal’s existence and reveal very little about what an animal looks like, any scientist using them as definitive proof of a new species stands the risk of ridicule by their peers.
This is why no matter how many plaster casts of Bigfoot footprints, or blurry photographs of the Loch Ness monster turn up neither animal will be classed as a new animal, or even existing until a body is found. When I was at university several years ago, I had a conversation with one of my lecturers who was also fascinated by cryptozoology. He used the example of Nessie, saying that even if the monster popped out of the water on camera during a live BBC broadcast and posed for photos, unless there was a body that evidence, would for some scientists, still carry only the same weight as one of his kid’s crayon pictures of the monster.

Because of this even when analysing something as unique as the call of the 52 Hertz whale you can only go so far before you are no longer presenting facts but only suppositions and theories. It is not improbable that the whale is the last surviving remnant of an unrecorded species, many new species of animal are discovered every month, the problem with this is finding the evidence to back it up. In the case of the whale, this would probably be one of the rare circumstances where a good quality photograph could be submitted as a holotype should the creature turn out to be an unrecorded species, but the problem would be in obtaining the photo.

The Woods Hole scientists were able to track the migratory pattern of the whale over several years, but this was only after the sounds had been declassified and released to them. Finding a moving target that you knew was in a certain place, say for example, last Tuesday, is a nigh on impossible task, and would require huge amounts of manpower. It is likely we will never know exactly what the 52 Hertz whale looks like, but the sentimentalist in me hopes that someday his calls are answered, however unlikely that may be.

The 52 Hertz whale can be heard here:
http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/vents/acoustics/whales/sounds/sounds_52blue.html

4 comments:

Ashaman Eric said...

Surely the technology exists to harness some sort of device to her that listens to her higher frequency calls and repeats them at the lower frequency other whales could hear (and visa versa if she doesn't respond to the lower frequency calls)?

Or even if we just shot sounds in her hearing range, it seems like we would be able to gauge if she's deaf or otherwise impaired.

john said...

I second that notion of very simple audio technology to play back the whales call at a lower frequency.Though it sounds like they are unable to find the actual whale.

izzit said...

This is a prime candidate for crowdsourcing... is there any way that cruising sailors, etc., could identify this whale by sound? have they mapped its route?

Hugo Costa said...

I guys,

Check the whales and dolphins page at
http://skaphandrus.com
a comprehensive catalogue of marine species to sea lovers.