Lonely song of single whale none can hear

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For three decades he has crooned his way around the Pacific, his songs drifting into the depths, unheard and unrequited.

Known to scientists simply as “52”, he is nicknamed the loneliest whale in the world, swimming in solitude and emitting his calls at a frequency of 52 Hertz — a pitch no other whale can understand.

Now a $300,000 expedition is being planned to seek out 52, to not only bring a better understanding of his mysterious plight but to turn a spotlight on the wider issue of ocean noise pollution and the threat that it poses to marine life.

Josh Zeman, an American film-maker, who has teamed up with marine biologists and bio-acousticians to mount the expedition, said: “52 means so many things to so many different people . . . For one person he’s a rare hybrid, for others he’s a metaphor for loneliness. To some he’s a spiritual guide or to others a symbol of our noisy oceans.”

“Despite the tragic nature of 52 and the cautionary tale found in his plight, our quest reveals a message of hope that shows how one lone whale can teach human beings about the true meaning of connection.”

The whale’s signal was first detected by the US Navy in 1989 while monitoring secret deep-sea microphones used to eavesdrop on Soviet submarines during the Cold War.

Likened to “the ghostly howls of a drowned tuba player”, it was not until three years later that it was identified as whale song by the late Dr William Watkins, a pioneer in marine mammal acoustics at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts.

The whale’s movements range from the Aleutian Islands off Alaska to an area 400 miles off California. Though often heard, 52 has never been seen and it is not known what species he is, as his signal matches no regular whale.

“The fact that he is not being understood and he’s a social being and that nobody is responding to him; absolutely, without a doubt, this whale is lonely — and that’s not being anthropomorphic,” said Dr Vint Virga, a former veterinary liaison to the US Congress and author of The Soul of All Living Creatures.

He is among a number of experts who have teamed up with Mr Zeman and Adrian Grenier, an actor, to launch a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, to fund a 20-day expedition to search for 52. Also involved are biologists from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in California, Oregon State University, and WHOI.

Among the expedition’s aims is to highlight the scourge of noise pollution. Sonar blasts used by the US military, and seismic blasts caused by the oil exploration industry are known to cause deafness, tissue damage and mass strandings among whales and dolphins.

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My second death sentence

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When I was convicted of the murder of Derrick and Duane Moo Young in 1987, and then sentenced to death, I passed out. I am not a frail, fainting kind of person, so I suppose it was the shock, the horror, of something so unexpected. Since I knew 100 per cent that I was innocent of the crimes, it had never occurred to me that 12 rational people on the jury could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that I was guilty.

More than 28 years later, my lawyer Clive Stafford Smith (of Reprieve) came to me with another verdict: William Thomas, a Miami judge, had just refused me a new trial, notwithstanding the witnesses who testified over several days that I was innocent, that the Moo Youngs had been killed by the Colombian drug cartels. I am condemned once again, it seems, to spend the rest of my life in prison. In a cruel cut, the Florida authorities sent me official notice a while back saying I could apply for parole in 2040, shortly after I am 101 years old.

I have just “celebrated” my 76th birthday. Of course that is the wrong word: it was much the worst anniversary of my entire life. I woke up at 5am, as usual, and took my insulin. I then spent the whole day worrying about my wife Marita, until 12 hours later when I finally got to call her for a paltry ten minutes. She was crying, and though I am typically British and do not like to show my emotions, it hurt me deeply inside that she should be suffering so. Since the judge’s decision, she has been ill, and I have worried that it might finally break her.

I am not well myself and, while I pray every day for those who have helped me, I also pray that I will stay alive until I am vindicated. One old man dies a week in this prison and there have been times when I have been close myself: either in the electric chair before my death sentence was overturned, or finished off by the deplorable medical care when a flesh-eating bacteria migrated from an unsanitary mattress into my bloodstream. I tell the Lord that he can take me home the very next day, if only he will let me clear my name. But in the next breath I know I do not mean it: I want to be there for Marita as she has been there for me. And I want to try to repay the people who have supported me.

It is difficult to keep optimistic. Here am I with the most loyal wife in the world, with the best lawyer in the world, with a judge who seemed so reasonable and who heard the same evidence I heard, and this is what he does. Somehow it was worse coming from a judge who seemed liberal and engaged. I don’t like to feel sorry for myself but I did wallow a little when I heard the judge’s decision. I could not sleep at all for two nights. I lay awake, searching unsuccessfully for words to describe the sadness I felt.

I can’t stand the word “injustice” – the legal system is far worse than that. In one way or another it is corrupted, either by money or by attitudes.

The judge’s order seems like a second death sentence. I am glad I was not there to listen to him read it out; I think I would have passed out again. I have been devastated, truly heart broken. I expected a new trial at the very least; perhaps he would vindicate me altogether. I had built up my expectations to the point that I thought I would be walking out of prison, and going back to my wonderful wife Marita.

Yet today, the best I can do is ask my lawyer to buy Marita 12 red roses, as a token of my unending appreciation for her. It’s not much but it’s the best that I can do.

Kris Maharaj, South Florida Reception Center, January 2015

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Jacqui Goddard, Miami

Lawyers for a British businessman serving two life sentences for murder in Florida have filed notice of appeal in a Miami court, challenging a judge’s rejection of critical new evidence that they say proves his innocence.

Krishna Maharaj, 76, was sentenced to death in 1987 for the murders of father and son business partners Derrick and Duane Moo Young – a penalty that was overturned a decade later and replaced with life imprisonment.

In a ruling handed down last month, Judge William Thomas of the 11th Judicial Circuit Court in Miami rejected testimony from multiple witnesses that the murders were perpetrated by agents for Colombia’s Medellin drug cartel and that Maharaj was framed in a plot that was assisted by corrupt police officers.

“The judge’s order seems like a second death sentence,” Maharaj writes in an article penned from prison for The Times and published above. “While I pray every day for those who have helped me, I also pray that I will stay alive until I am vindicated.”

Among evidence obtained by the human rights organisation Reprieve, which has led attempts to clear Maharaj’s name for 21 years, was testimony from a former CIA informant relating to the cartel’s involvement, which Judge Thomas agreed was “compelling” and “credible”.

Other new evidence included statements from Jhon Jairo Velasquez Vasquez, formerly a chief assassin for the cartel, and Jorge Maya, an accused drugs launderer and trafficker, both stating that the Moo Youngs were murdered by agents for the late druglord Pablo Escobar.

But Judge Thomas ruled last month that all three’s evidence amounted to “inadmissible hearsay” and stated that, along with other new testimony presented by Reprieve, it was “not of such a nature to create a reasonable doubt as to Mr Maharaj’s guilt.”

Reprieve’s director Clive Stafford Smith, who represents Maharaj pro bono, said: “I am not sure there has been a more dispiriting moment in the 30 years of my career, as Kris is utterly innocent. But as he told me, we just have to keep fighting until we get him justice.”

Notice of appeal was filed into Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals today (Feb 9th). The appeal process, which aims to overturn Judge Thomas’s ruling and seek a fresh examination of the new evidence, could take up to a year.