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The 52 Hertz Whale

A year ago I read an article in The New York Times that continues to haunt me. I clipped it, as I do with many articles that shed light on the mystery of life. There’s no rhyme or reason to my filing system, so I tossed this one in with all the other orphans.

Apparently there’s a single whale, species unknown, that randomly roams the North East Pacific “calling out with the regularity of a metronome” seeking an answer yet never hearing one. Since 1992 a classified array of hydrophones used by the Navy to monitor enemy submarines has heard and recorded this solitary sea behemoth.

They’ve noted it makes a distinctive stream of sounds at rate of 52 Hz, something in the basso profundo frequency, just above the lowest notes on a tuba. They’ve become so familiar with this one whale, they’ve given it a name: “The 52 Hz Whale.”

Interested in hearing this whale’s call? Go to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Web site to listen in.

Scientists are generally able to lump this sound with that other of whale species, but they’ve never heard another one just like this one. That leads them to believe this whale goes unanswered by its own kind. The simple assumption is there may be no others of the same species left to respond.

Long-term recordings indicate the 52 Hz Whale may be maturing, since its notes have deepened slightly over time.

Researchers have begun writing in trade journals of this discovery, and word of the whale’s existence has gotten out. Unsolicited e-mail messages have come from whale watchers who are touched by the story. Something of a “Lonely Hearts Club for Whales” sentiment is typically offered.

Even E.T. wanted to phone home. Something deep inside all of us has a wish to connect, to make contact with that which is called “home.”

Social scientists and relational psychologists claim we are created with an innate desire to “reach out and touch.”

This is no surprise to those of us who love the story of Creation. The first book of the Hebrew Scriptures poetically describes the indescribable: God, with a whisper and a guttural utterance, brought whole realms of being into existence out of non-existence.

“Something out of nothing,” we weakly respond.

There’s a great deal of effort given to turning the Hebrew faith-story into so-called factual faith-science, and it simply can’t be done.

Could there be a more beautiful tribute to the wildly creative imagination of Something Beyond than a single, solitary whale, who cries out into the void of cold and darkness, seeking to be reunited with one like itself?

Meanwhile, we of the human creation have one another to remind us of home; someone to answer our lonely cries for companionship. Call them friends or family, but realize no one should be left alone. God answers back by calling one more creation into being and calling it “church.”

We have work to do, and most of it can be considered various forms of relationship with one another. We can talk to one another and share our stories. We can share a meal together in a practice as ancient as the Bible itself when it describes the breaking of bread.

In the midst of a time when individualism reigns supreme and viewed as a violation to our sense of privacy, the whale beckons us to a deeper sense of community.

Keith Herron is senior pastor at Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo.