The 52-Hertz whale (or 52 Blue) was originally found in 1989 by Dr. William Watkins, a leading researcher of marine mammal acoustics. While whales generally call within the frequency range of 10 and 30Hz, as its name suggests, 52 Blue vocalises at 52Hz, a uniquely different frequency from the others. He calls out, no one answers; he speaks, no one understands. This has sparked a plethora of interest in mainstream culture; and had propagated in the form of songs, books, and films.
How did a lone whale in the vast blue make its way to the hearts of so many people? 52 Blue represents the part of ourselves that can identify with its solitude and the accompanying loneliness. Being in connection with another is a universal human need, and the feeling of being without can be profound and unbearable.
According to psychologist and philosopher William James, “A great source of terror in infancy is solitude”; the fear of being left alone is inherent in our first experiences of anxiety. Attachment studies have observed the heightened anxiety/fear in infants when there is a loss or threat of loss of an affective relationship with a significant other (Bowlby, 1973); loneliness was described as the painful longing for the lost relationship (Freud, 1959a). Even before birth in utero, the unborn child in the amniotic fluid is connected via the umbilical cord with the mother; it is a bond that exists from the very beginning. We are all beings in relation to one another; a mother doesn’t exist without the baby, a baby doesn’t exist without the mother.
While the presence of external companions can at times alleviate the emotional pain of being without, the inner sense of loneliness in our private, inner worlds can remain deeply felt (i.e. one can be among friends or others yet still feel lonely). This painful internal state of mind results from an un- or under- developed capacity to be alone; limited capacity to communicate with the different parts of the self (Cohen, 1982).
We may not be able to eliminate loneliness entirely, to achieve full integration/communication with all the various parts of our selves (Klein, 1963). We may be heavily defended, affectively or otherwise, as we struggle to acknowledge and accept the parts of ourselves we feel embarrassed about, ashamed of, or disgusted by. As a result, we judge, we disavow, and we disown these parts of the self in an effort to keep them hidden and separate – “not me”. In that process we collude with the dis- integration and fragmentation of our psyche, leaving alone those fragments/parts of the self.
Being alone is not dissimilar to being in our own company, and the relationship with the self is one that is permanent. By fostering an authentic relationship with the self; by embracing the different parts of the self, by connecting with the intimate parts of ourselves, we can start to create a sufficiently integrated internal world that is more habitable, one that can better bear the felt intensity of loneliness.
Whether or not 52 Blue feels alone in his own company, he is certainly not alone in his loneliness. Just as he continues to swim and find his way in the depths of the ocean, we endeavour to adapt to life’s changes and navigate the world around us. In the worlds we live in, a greater integration of our internal world allows for greater connectedness in the way we relate to ourselves that can in turn transform into more fulfilling relationships with external others.
Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss: Vol. 2. Separation: Anxiety and anger.
London: Hogarth Press.
Cohen, N. (1982). On loneliness and the ageing process. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 63 (2), 149-155.
Freud, S. (1959a). Creative writers and daydreaming. In J. Strachey (Ed. & Trans.), The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. 9, pp. 143-153). London: Hogarth Press.
Klein, M. (1963). On the sense of loneliness. In Envy and Gratitude and other works. London: Hogarth (1975), pp. 300-313
I am a clinical psychologist with over 8 years of experience working with adolescents and adults across a variety of Government and Community settings in Western Australia and Singapore. This includes individuals within in- and out-patient hospitals, rehabilitation centres, and in prison settings. I work primarily from dynamically oriented and attachment based approaches, where my focus is on addressing underlying issues that often mask as problematic symptoms. I believe in the value of attending to core issues and the context with which one’s distress develops, lest they remain under- or unprocessed, creating other problems that can manifest in various ways later in life.