52 Blue — The Atavist Magazine

In short, the best piece you’ll ever read on the 52 hertz whale.

“In 1894, a wealthy amateur astronomer named Percival Lowell built a telescope in Flagstaff, Arizona. He spent the next 20 years looking through it and finding things no one else could see: a series of canals extending from the poles of Mars, a network of spokes radiating from a hub on Venus. He took both as signs of extraterrestrial civilization. He was mocked. He kept seeing the canals, kept seeing the spokes. He kept insisting. Years later an optometrist solved the puzzle: The settings on Lowell’s telescope—its magnification and narrow aperture—meant that it was essentially projecting the interior of his eye onto the planets he was watching. The spokes of Venus were the shadows of his blood vessels, swollen from hypertension. He wasn’t seeing other life; he was seeing the imprint of his own gaze.”

—Leslie Jamison, “52 Blue.” The Atavist Magazine. No. 40, June 2019.

I thought that this story within the story captured its essence. A brilliant incorporation. I also liked this:

“Don’t assume. Don’t assume the contours of another person’s heart. Don’t assume its desires. Don’t assume that being alone means being lonely. The scientists would say of 52, of course: Don’t assume the whale is either one.”


I like the fact that the 52 Hertz whale was last recorded at 49.6 Hertz. Everything is impermanent, which seems obviously true of whale song.

“We have tuned our hearts to a signal that no longer exists.”


Perhaps a no greater distillation of what it means to be human.