Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, a single whale calls out again and again and again. Whale 52, as he’s known, has never been seen by humans. But he has been heard. For years. His call has been recorded and it’s in a frequency that matches no other whale species.
Maybe that’s why no other whale seems to have answered him and why 52 continues to swim and call, swim and call. The media has dubbed him The Loneliest Whale in the World. A Kickstarter campaign is trying to fund an expedition by filmmaker Josh Zeman to find 52. The whale has inspired a singer to write an entire album dedicated to him and an artist to name a sculpture for him. And ah, yes, he has a Twitter account, too, though he’s not had much to say lately.
He is a very famous whale for never having been seen…or perhaps even properly understood. As is often the case with narratives, the narratives unfolding about the whale say as much about the person telling them as they do about the whale — and probably more. Same whale, different interpretations.
“For some people, he’s so lonely,” Zeman says. “For others, he’s celebrating his alone-ness. He’s an inspirational message — because he continues to call out no matter what. For other people, he’s a kind of cautionary tale about technology and social media,” as in, connecting us constantly but perhaps decreasing the amount of real listening we do.
Whale 52 and the narratives about him are a lovely reminder that, as writer Anäis Nin supposedly said (perhaps referencing the Talmud), we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.
When we interpret another’s words and actions, we interpret them through the lens of our own existence, experiences, values, beliefs. When we mediate or coach, we don’t (we can’t) check ourselves at the door — we carry who and how we are to the table with us.