I recently had the opportunity to check out a screener for the upcoming documentary The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52 (due to release on July 9th), which follows director Joshua Zeman’s journey to locate the so-called “52-Hertz whale”, a near-legendary creature due to the fact that it appears to be the only whale in existence to call out at a frequency of 52 Hertz, giving it the nickname “the loneliest whale” because no other whales can seemingly communicate back with it.
I’d never heard of the loneliest whale before seeing this documentary, so I found the entire story fascinating. It also helped that I’ve always been interested in whales, and I’ll always take the opportunity to learn more about them if I can. This documentary will certainly teach you quite a bit about whales, particularly about blue whales (the largest whale on Earth), fin whales (the second-largest) and humpback whales. I knew of course that humpback whales could sing, but I never knew that blue whales and fin whales had their own vocalizations as well, and the documentary covers this in a way that makes it easy to understand.
The bulk of the documentary, as the title implies, follows Zeman and a crew as they embark on a seven-day expedition to look for this mysterious 52-Hertz whale, which at the time of filming in 2015 hadn’t been documented for nearly 11 years. In between tracking the expedition however, there are segments inserted that explain the history of humanity’s fascination with whales for better and for worse. The history of humans hunting whales is touched upon, along with the subsequent “Save the Whales” movement that started in the 1970s. It’s a nice way to cut up the action and prevents what could be relatively boring story about hunting for one lone whale into a story that not only follows that hunt, but tells you about humanity’s relationship with whales along the way.
That being said, while I do appreciate learning about the history of whaling and the devastating effect it had on whale populations worldwide, I did find some of those scenes to be rather distressing. I’m sure that was the idea, but if you are uncomfortable with the sight of blood and seeing carcasses cut up, some of that footage might bother you.
Now, on the side of the story that followed the hunt for the whale, I liked how they explained each step of what they were doing to try and hunt for the whale. They even included some amazing underwater footage of the sonar buoys deploying, which I found fascinating because I had no idea that’s what one looked like and it was really helpful that the documentary showed that process. But my favorite part has to be when the crew went around “tagging” blue whales and fin whales in an effort to locate the loneliest whale. And I liked it because these tags had cameras attached, so once they managed the rhythm of getting the tag attached, one minute you (the viewer) are in the air, the next…you’re suddenly riding on the back of a blue whale, the largest animal on Earth. It’s a thrilling moment, one that took my breath away and I definitely have a new appreciation for whales after seeing them up close like that.
But aside from the whales, The Loneliest Whale also touches on why we are so fascinated by this mysterious whale. There’s an interesting commentary on the nature of human relationships and how they’ve changed. The documentary could have touched on this a bit more, but it definitely provides some food for thought on the nature of human relationships and why they’re so important (and necessary) for us.
Now, the one thing that frustrates me about The Loneliest Whale is that it ends with less resolution than I would like. I know documentaries like this aren’t guaranteed to have conclusive endings, but this one’s ending definitely left me wanting more. Hopefully there will be a follow up documentary down the line, because I definitely want to hear more about this mysterious whale.
In the end, I’m very glad I got to see The Loneliest Whale. I learned a lot about whales, about our history of interacting with them, and I gained a deeper appreciation for the issues facing whales in the 21st century. This is a really fun documentary and I highly recommend checking it out.
Let me know what you think about The Loneliest Whale in the comments below and have a great day!
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