Minden Pictures, MasterFile
An enigmatic whale roams the North Pacific, and next year Bruce Mate will lead a monthlong expedition to find it. Mate, director of Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute in Newport, is no revenge-obsessed Captain Ahab. And the object of the quest is no ferocious leviathan: It is probably one of the generally meek baleen whales that prey on creatures close to the base of the food chain.
No one has ever seen this particular whale (“that they know of,” says Mate), but researchers know it’s out there. Its distinctive 52-hertz calls — similar to those of blue whales and fin whales but higher in pitch — have been recorded since 1989 by various researchers and the U.S. Navy.
Scientists have some notions about the mystery whale: It’s probably a male, says Mate, since its calls pierce the seas only during mating season. The whale has been tracked swimming as far as 11,000 kilometers in a single season, so it’s apparently