‘The World’s Loneliest Whale’ Finally Has an Entourage: Adrian Grenier to Produce New Doc

The financier of ‘The Square’ gets behind the effort to find the elusive, solitary whale known as 52 Hertz.
(Photo: Nick Caloyianis/Getty Images)
May 21, 2014· 2 MIN READ
David Kirby has been a professional journalist for 25 years. His third book, Death at Seaworld, was published in 2012.

An actor best known for playing a Hollywood star surrounded by an entourage is set to produce a film about a whale that doesn’t seem to have a friend in the world.

This week at the Cannes Film Festival, New York–based Worldview Entertainment, which was also involved with the Oscar-nominated documentary The Square, announced it will finance and produce the documentary feature 52, about the needle-in-a-haystack search for a mysterious, strangely solitary mammal often called the “loneliest whale in the world.”

Entourage star Adrian Grenier is the producer of the movie, which will be directed by Joshua Zeman from his own treatment. Perhaps Zeman’s most prominent credit is as coproducer of the 2003 Peter Dinklage breakout film The Station Agent. Since then, he has directed and written documentaries.

During a seven-week Pacific expedition this fall, the crew will set out to find “52 Hertz,” the single male cetacean who emits mating songs at a single frequency, unlike any other whale in the sea. Baleen whales, which includes blue whales and humpbacks, can make vocalizations at frequencies in a wide range—from 10Hz to 7000Hz (7kHz). This one-of-a-kind whale also emits calls that are more frequent and shorter than those of other whales, and he doesn’t follow any known migration route.

In other words, this whale has no one to talk to. His lonesome love songs go unreturned because no other whale can hear him singing.

No one has ever knowingly seen the elusive 52 Hertz, but U.S. government scientists have been tracking his haunting songs, which can travel for hundreds of miles under the ocean, for decades. Discovery magazine once described the otherworldly sound as “the ghostly howls of a drowned tuba player.”

His exact species is uncertain, though he is believed to be a blue whale or a fin whale, or perhaps a rare hybrid of the two. Other possible explanations are that he is malformed, or perhaps even the last vestige of a whale species that has never been identified.

52 Hertz’s songs were first detected by the U.S. Navy in 1992, so he is at least 24 years old, although probably much older. A 2004 New York Times article reported that his voice had deepened slightly, a possible sign of maturing.

Despite his exceptional solitude—virtually all whales are highly social animals with strong family bonds—52 Hertz is healthy. That he has survived on his own for so long “indicates there is nothing wrong” with his physical condition, Dr. Kate Stafford, a researcher at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle, told The New York Times.

Officials at Worldview Entertainment, which has signed on to finance the film, did not return calls seeking comment. Zeman told Variety, “I’m so humbled by the scope of this adventure. There is still so much mystery in our oceans, and the plight of this lonely whale speaks to something very human in all of us, the need to connect and be heard.”

52 Hertz, whose tale has been recounted on CNN, BBC, and other international outlets, has inspired people around the world to compose songs, poems, and books about the friendless whale.

Yet it’s possible that this whale is not so lonely after all. “Is he alone? I don’t know,” Mary-Ann Daher, a whale researcher who coauthored a 2004 paper on 52 Hertz, told Discovery magazine. “People like to imagine this creature just out there swimming by his lonesome, just singing away and nobody’s listening. But I can’t say that.”

52: The Search for the Loneliest Whale in the World is expected to open in 2015.

Correction [May 24, 2014]:
An earlier version of this article stated that 52 Hertz vocalizes "at a frequency far higher than any other whale in the sea." This is incorrect. What makes 52 Hertz exceptional is that he vocalizes only at 52 Hertz, rather than through a range of frequencies (pitches), as other whales do. Other whales make steady-frequency calls, but at different, species-specific frequencies. TakePart.com regrets the error.