Adrian Grenier and Josh Zeman Team Up to Embark on a Quest to Find the ‘Loneliest Whale in the World’

Adrian Grenier and Josh Zeman Team Up to Embark on a Quest to Find the 'Loneliest Whale in the World'

On Friday February 27, documentary director Josh Zeman ("Cropsey") and executive director and actor Adrian Grenier ("Entourage," "The Devil Wears Prada") took over Times Square to promote their upcoming research expedition and documentary project "52: The Search for the Loneliest Whale in the World." Scientists and a film crew will soon set out to sea in search of this so-called "Lonely Whale," a whale of unknown species known as 52 Hertz, who emits calls at a frequency no other whale can understand. He swims alone, mate-less and friendless, assumed to have spent his entire life in isolation because no other whales can hear him. "We believe 52 is either the first of his kind, the last of his kind, or a completely new hybrid species," said Zeman.

READ MORE: A Tale of a  Whale in ’52: The Search for The Loneliest Whale"

The Lonely Whale team partnered with Pvblic Foundation, who donate digital billboard space for non-profits, to "turn Times Square blue," in an effort to raise awareness around ocean health and noise pollution. The two-day affair included a digital installation at Times Square with real-life whale footage playing on a loop and an event at the W New York – Times Square Hotel.

The group also partnered with Time Warner Cable for the event, in honor of Time Warner Cable’s Indie Film Month, which Indiewire has been highlighting over the past several weeks (for more go here). The partnership involved a contest which resulted in the winner, Los Angeles resident Angie Melchiade, flying to New York for five days to help assist Zeman and Grenier prepare for their grand expedition. Her name will be included in the credits of the film and she received a $2,000 gift card to use on film equipment. 

The notion of this reclusive whale has captured the imagination and hearts of many—but 52 is presumably a tragic figure and not because we’re being anthropomorphic. Typically, whales spend their entire lives in pods, never separated from their families, but 52 flies solo. "Whales have spindle cells, the same cells that humans, primates and elephants have that allow us to love, feel excluded and work in cooperative groups," Zeman explained. Whales also have much bigger brains than we do, so they have double the spindle cells. Theoretically, whales consequently have more social feelings than us and perhaps experience profundities we couldn’t even begin to understand. The 2013 documentary "Blackfish," following Orca whales in captivity at SeaWorld, shed some much-needed light on the mistreatment of animals with similarly high levels of emotional intelligence. SeaWorld’s profits notably decreased following the release of the film.

The Lonely Whale’s story has resonated with audiences, too. People seem to identify with his lonesomeness; they’ve shared news of him via social media, painted pictures, written poetry and songs and created memes. What does 52’s story say about us? "Animals and people alike need to have connection with their own species," said Grenier. The calls of 52 have been recorded for years, but he has never encountered human beings in the flesh before—so what happens if the team eventually tracks him down? "Group hug," joked Grenier. Actually, there are laws preventing much contact between people and marine life. "We’re gonna look to the scientists," Grenier said, "because they can bring back important information to educate us, so we know how to do a better job at reducing ocean noise pollution." The team will attempt to acoustically "tag" 52, so they can monitor and study his abnormalities.
The project has an additional, broader scope: to put a focus on ocean conservation and the health of marine wildlife, specifically the problem of ocean noise pollution. This form of pollution is one of the most harmful threats to marine mammals in existence, particularly whales. The causes are man-made: sonar blasts from military exercises, seismic air guns from fuel exploration and commercial ships crossing the seas. The growing total of human-caused noise in the ocean is detrimental to sound-sensitive creatures, who can suffer hearing damage when exposed to loud noises, in addition to other physical and psychological injury.

It’s amazing how little we know about our planet’s oceans—we literally know more about the surface of the moon. An estimated 50-80% of all life on earth is found beneath the sea, but less than 10% of that space has been explored by humans. "We as a species need to dare to go out on these quests," said Grenier, "to get off our phones and out of the virtual world and go into the real world—there’s still so much to discover and explore." In a time where every answer seems easily at our fingertips through Google, "it’s really important for science to have this kind of quest to fuel curiosity," said Zeman.

Funding a project like this one isn’t easy (nothing like this has ever been attempted before) and the Lonely Whale team have a Kickstarter page to raise money. "You would not believe how expensive it is to fund this expedition," said Zeman. "The food, the gas, we’re talking about going really far out there in the ocean." Eight to 12 crew members will be crammed onto a hundred-food boat, sailing hundreds of miles off the Pacific coast over the course of a month. "But I’ve never made a film that was easy," Grenier said. "Even if the movie is bad, 5% on Rotten Tomatoes, I’m humbled and in awe that it got done. It’s relentless pursuit that gets it done.

Could Whale 52 be happy on his own? That’s a very "human" and urban response, to assume the whale wants his space, said Zeman. "It’s not so much about whether the whale has human feelings—it’s about whether humans have human feelings!" Grenier added. "Do we care enough about what’s happening to whales, the oceans, marine mammals?"

Zeman and Grenier agree that seeing people connect to this story has been uniquely powerful. Ironically, people seem better able to connect with each other via the metaphor of the mysterious beast, who has experienced the most profound solitude of us all. Unbeknownst to 52, thousands have already heard his calls in Times Square and thousands more will read about him in the days to come. "Being in Times Square is interesting, because the film is about noise pollution," said Zeman with a laugh. "Here we have this one lonely whale with a singular call in the middle of Times Square. It warms my heart."

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