Using Blue Whales' Perfect Pitch to Drive People Insane
A blue whale spouts off Moresby Island, British Columbia, Canada.
Credit: John Calambokidis, Cascadia Research Collective

While the mighty blue whale has haunted the nightmares of krill and plankton for millennia, humans have never had much cause to fear this behemoth - until now.  If my newest scheme works out, I'll harness the eerie calls of these cetacean chanteuses for my own evil ends. And believe me, once I've seen this through, the whales won't be the only ones who are blue.

The inspiration for this diabolical stratagem was found in some exciting work from Roger Bland, an acoustic physicist at San Francisco State University. He and his group have shown that among Northeastern Pacific blue whales, the B call – that is, the long, sad sigh that marks the end of their song – always hits the same note, 16.02 Hertz, three octaves below middle C. 

But the whale's perfect pitch is more than just a reason to sign them up for show choir; their preferred note falls within the mysterious and potentially dangerous infrasonic range – a set of tones below 20 Hz, generally inaudible to human ears, which have been of interest to mad scientists for decades.

Pleased as I am to find that blue whales are reliable sources of hazardous sounds, the question poses itself: Why do they so readily provide a noise that is of such use for my scheming? Bland suggests that it may help whales to find one another, as the song of a moving whale will exhibit Doppler shifts, rising and falling in pitch as the whale approaches and retreats. If all whales sing at the same pitch, then the songs made by a whale in motion will be able to clearly communicate the rate of the whale's movement.

No matter the evolutionary advantage of the blue whale's doleful dirge, it conveys a clear advantage to yours truly, who now has at his fingertips an infrasonic chorus to use for nefarious plotting.

Why the sudden interest in infrasound? A handful of studies have shown that these sounds can cause changes in human blood pressure, breathing and balance. Others have suggested they can precipitate feelings of annoyance or sadness, and some have gone so far as to suggest the sounds can cause visual hallucinations.

In short, infrasound is the stuff that mad science is built on. Knowing that blue whales can provide well-tuned concerts of unnerving infrasound puts me that much closer to achieving my world domination daydreams.

I have only to gather a pod of blue whales in the harbor of some Pacific coastal town and make them direct their song landward. The synchronized infrasonic hum, deafening yet inaudible, has the potential to cause anything from high blood pressure to incipient madness in the townspeople. At the very least, it'll produce a hum that some people can hear and others can't, which would be unbearably annoying.

It's bound to leave the confused townspeople begging for mercy. And once they find out that I'm the only one who can quiet my operatic leviathans, they'll be itching to give me a key to the city if it'll put an end to the insanity.

Now all I have to do is find enough krill to attract a full chorus of blue whales…


Mad scientist Eric Schaffer has one index finger on the "fire death ray!" button and his other index finger on the exciting pulse of scientific research. His accounts of diabolical machinations, as well as research breakthroughs, appear regularly on LiveScience.