Coping in Isolation: The Loneliest Creature


By: Jessica Satya Graha

Edited by: Carolin Cao

Imagine speaking a language that only you can understand. Roaming around the world without a friend and stuck in an abyss of solitude. That no matter how loud you yell, your cries will only continue to project as echoes. Echoes in the deep vast ocean. This is the life of the 52-hertz whale, colloquially known as 52 Blue.

52 Blue is an individual whale of an unidentified species and gender that closely resembles the blue whale and the fin whale. They are said to be biologically similar to other whales and it is possible that they can technically be heard, but it is suspected that other whales will be unable to communicate with 52 Blue. Their melodious echoes would just sound like gibberish. 

Dr. William Watkin’s first detected the whale’s yearning with underwater hydrophones, first installed in the ocean by the Pentagon in the 1950s for the purposes of detecting Soviet submarines.

Now there is a quest to find 52 Blue. A documentary titled ‘The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52’ was produced showcasing the journey in hopes to solve the mystery and find 52 Blue. It has fascinated so many researchers, scientists, because we can empathise with 52 Blue. We can describe it as a mirror of ourselves. 

The story of 52 Blue intrigued me. Many of us can probably empathise with 52 Blue. The sadness of not being heard. The feelings of disconnect and not belonging. We know the effects of loneliness that were precipitated by the pandemic. But we often brush our emotions aside. We move on with our days. But it’s fascinating how so many people identify with the whale. It makes us question, why does the story of a lonely whale speak to so many people in this day and age? 

Josh Zeman, director of the documentary ‘The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52’ does not succumb to the anthropomorphism of the whale. “It’s not physically the whale. The whale itself—honestly, if you talk to scientists, they will tell you that it’s not lonely,” says Joshua Zeman. “The power is in the metaphor. The power is in the motif. The power is in all these people coming together over an idea.” All too often we can sympathise with the struggles of others because it is a means of understanding our own emotions. That we are not alone in our feelings of loneliness. 

“That existential crisis story is in the form of a whale, a creature that is so big that it humbles us as human beings and is kind of beautiful and serene and almost spiritual. That was really the initial quest. It was to understand why we as human beings were affected by that idea.”

The image of a solitary whale roaming the depths of the Pacific Ocean instantly garners our sympathy. It is totemic of the current epidemic of loneliness. The struggle of not belonging to a group. The disconnect. But what if we are just being pessimistic? What if the whale actually enjoys being alone? Can whales feel loneliness and isolation in the same way that we do? What if it’s enjoying its time swimming around in the big great ocean? What we see is an isolated whale crying out in the dark abyss, but what if it’s a creature merely appreciating its own company and singing contently, at peace with itself?

We discussed the difference between solitude and loneliness in our previous article. One is a choice that can bring many benefits, while the other is not a choice and is associated with negative emotions. Going through a period of loneliness is an opportunity to learn the silver lining of being in solitude amidst feeling depressed and lonely. Wouldn’t it be somewhat relaxing if our we detached ourselves from the chaos of the materialistic world? To disconnect from social media for a while and enjoy the relief of not having to meet the expectations of others? Is it possible that 52 Blue want to be alone?

“We used to call this creature the loneliest whale in the world,” Zeman narrates. “But after today, it’s better known as 52.”. The worldwide sensation of 52 has undoubtedly been more symbolic than just a ‘lonely animal’ but rather a shared touchstone of alienation and melancholy. Countless people have felt moved by the story because we feel some bond with this elusive creature 

It is no spoiler that we have not found 52. Trying to find this mysterious creature in the expanse of the Pacific is a little bit unrealistic. But the point of the quest was possibly not to find the whale, but rather learn about ourselves along the way. If in the end, we find the whale, what are we going to do? Are we going to hug it? Maybe it is better that this mystery remains unsolved. 

Director Zeman stated, “In a lot of ways, it wasn’t about the results of the expedition; it was the fact that all these people had come together because of this one idea. That to me was the success.”

This is possibly the most rewarding lesson that has come out of this journey. A true representation of the cliche saying that ‘it’s the journey, not the destination that matters’. These past couple of years, the pandemic has shown us that we can be so easily isolated from one another. That we can feel like creatures travelling around the vast world, calling out but never hearing a response. There are so many facets of isolation that can be both of benefit and disadvantage to our health and well-being. In the end, loneliness is a topic of much discussion in this current day and age but possibly, it is our shared understanding of our own solitude that brings us closer to each other.