An mysterious type of baleen whale is said to roam the North Pacific. Marine biologists know this from some unusual sound recordings. One problem with identifying this particular whale is, however, that no one has actually ever seen it.
The whale is a unique whale that calls at a characteristic frequency. It appears to be the only individual with this call, and has been described as the world's loneliest whale. The whale has been known of for a decade. It is back in the news following the announcement of a new mission to track the whale down,
The key issue is whether the "new" baleen whale actually exists. Ocean scientists known that a very different type of whale exists from the sound that it makes. The whale makes distinctive 52-hertz calls, which are similar to those of blue whales and fin whales but higher in pitch.
The baleen whales, also called whalebone whales or great whales, are characterized by having baleen plates for filtering food from water, rather than having teeth.
The problem with tracking the whale is that it does not make its distinctive sounds very often, only during what is the mating season for whales. The whale is also thought to cover great distances, having been tracked swimming as far as 11,000 kilometers in a single season.
The whale is commonly detected in the Pacific Ocean every year beginning in August–December, according to the New York Times. The whale moves out of range of sound equipment in January–February. It then seems to travel as far north as the Aleutian and Kodiak Islands, and as far south as the California coast, swimming between 30 and 70 kilometers each day
The area of scientific debate is whether the baleen whale is a new species or is in fact a hybrid between two known species, or possibly an individual whale with a malformation in its sound-producing organs.
A mission set to begin this September — led by Bruce Mate, director of Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute in Newport — aims to answer the conundrum: is there is an as yet unseen new species of whale deep in the ocean or not?