Alone Again, Or

WhaleImageScientists have been studying the calls of a whale dubbed “the loneliest whale in the world” for more than 20 years. Its calls are unusually high pitched—52 hertz, versus the typical 15-20 hertz range of blue whales. No one has ever seen the 52-hertz whale, but scientists believe he has been swimming alone for decades, calling out to other whales but getting no response. 52 Hertz might be a hybrid cross between a blue and a fin whale, or maybe his unusually high-pitched calls are due to a physical deformity. Recently, some scientists have raised doubts about the whale’s status as “the world’s loneliest whale” and suggested that fin whales and blue whales likely can hear 52Hz’s singing. The lower frequencies of the blue and fin whales’ calls is a recent development, likely a result of the noise pollution that has overwhelmed many species throughout the oceans. A recent Kickstarter campaign by director Josh Zeman and actor Adrien Grenier raised funds to try to locate and film a documentary about 52 Hz.

Solitary ants from the species Camponotus fellah (a type of carpenter ant) do not thrive. In a recent experiment, Laurent Keller and his associates found that solitary ants died much more quickly than ants housed with larvae for company. Neither of those groups lived as long as the groups of 10 ants housed together. The solitary ants spent double the amount of time wandering around their homes compared with the groups of 10 ants. This article provides a brief discussion of the experiment, and introduces additional questions, such as why the solitary ants died so quickly and what the motive might have been for the excessive time spent walking in their housing capsules.

Extreme isolation can lead to strange and extremely unpleasant things in the human mind. Though it varies from person to person, some of the side effects include depression, visual and auditory hallucinations, anxiety, and paranoia. The most extensive research on the subject took place during the 1950s at McGill University led by psychologist Donald Hebb. The results, according to Hebb, “were very unsettling to us.”

There is an amazing story of a Russian family that lived in complete isolation for 40 years in Siberia. Karp Lykov fled with his wife and children to Siberia, escaping deeper and deeper into the Siberian wilderness to avoid religious persecution. The family of two adults and four children lived in complete isolation until 1978, when Soviet geologists discovered a clearing located 6,000 feet up a mountainside and 150 miles from the nearest settlement. The younger Lykovs had never met anyone outside of their immediate family; meetings and discussions with the geologists marked the first time in 40 years that the family interacted with outsiders.

Christopher Knight, also known as the North Pond Hermit, lived in the Maine woods from 1986 until he was arrested in 2013. He had no vehicle, no address, and received no mail. Despite the freezing cold winter, he slept only in a tent and never used a fire for fear of being discovered. He stole items such as steak, candy, and books from the surrounding cabins, but otherwise, his dedication to living a solitary life was absolute; he engaged in zero communication with the outside world. Despite the mental and physical hardships he faced by living alone in an inhospitable location, it was only when he was sent to jail and forced to interact with other people that the North Pond Hermit began to mentally deteriorate.