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Seeking the loneliest whale

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2:04pm, September 5, 2013
Researchers Bruce Mate (right) and Al Goudy prepare to tag a blue whale off Costa Rica.

Researchers Bruce Mate (right) and Al Goudy prepare to tag a blue whale off Costa Rica.

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.

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