Make It Scream, Make It Burn by Leslie Jamison Read Online (FREE)
Read Make It Scream, Make It Burn by Leslie Jamison full novel online free here.
— I —
December 7, 1992. Whidbey Island, Puget Sound. The world wars were over. The other wars were over: Korea, Vietnam. The Cold War was finally over, too. The Whidbey Island Naval Air Station remained. So did the Pacific, its waters vast and fathomless beyond an airfield named for an airman whose body was never found: William Ault, who died in the Battle of the Coral Sea. This is how it goes. The ocean swallows human bodies whole and makes them immortal. William Ault became a runway that sends other men into the sky.
At the Naval Air Station, the infinite Pacific appeared as finite data gathered by a network of hydrophones spread along the ocean floor. Initially used to monitor Soviet subs during the Cold War, these hydrophones had since been turned toward the sea itself, transforming its formless noises into something measurable: pages of printed graphs rolling out of a spectrograph machine.
On that particular December day in 1992, petty officer second class Velma Ronquille heard a strange sound. She stretched it out on a different spectrogram so she could see it better. She couldn’t quite believe that it was coming in at 52 hertz. She beckoned one of the audio technicians. He needed to come back, she said. He needed to take another look. The technician came back. He took another look. His name was Joe George. Velma told him, “I think this is a whale.”
Joe thought, Holy cow. It hardly seemed possible. The sound pattern looked like the call of a blue whale, but blue whales usually came in somewhere between 15 and 20 hertz—an almost imperceptible rumble, on the periphery of what the human ear can detect. Fifty-two hertz was off the charts. But here it was, right in front of them, the audio signature of a creature moving through Pacific waters with a singularly high-pitched song.
Whales make calls for a number of reasons: to navigate, to find food, to communicate with one another. For certain whales, including humpbacks and blues, songs also play a role in sexual selection. Blue males sing louder than females, and the volume of their singing—at more than 180 decibels—makes them the loudest animals in the world. They click and grunt and trill and hum and moan. They sound like foghorns. Their calls can travel thousands of miles through the ocean.
Because this whale’s frequency was unprecedented, the folks at Whidbey kept tracking him for years, every migration season, as he made his way south from Alaska to Mexico. They figured it was a he, as only males sing during mating season. His path wasn’t unusual, only his song—along with the fact that they never detected any other whales around him. He always seemed to be alone. This whale was calling out high, and apparently to no one—or at least, no one seemed to be answering. The acoustic technicians called him 52 Blue. A scientific report would eventually acknowledge that no other whale calls with similar characteristics had ever been reported. “It is perhaps difficult to accept,” the report conceded, that “there could have been only one of this kind in this large oceanic expanse.”