beluga whale
by Ali Berman
Categories: Science.

Want to talk to a nonhuman animal? Usually, you might try a captive parrot. But now, maybe you can just dip your head under water. (In a tank, not out in the wild.)

A new study by the National Marine Mammal Foundation shows that Beluga whales are capable of mimicking human speech. One specific whale, NOC, was recorded making sounds several octaves lower than you might normally hear from the species.

They report, “‘The whale’s vocalizations often sounded as if two people were conversing in the distance,’ says Dr. Sam Ridgway, President of the National Marine Mammal Foundation. ‘These ‘conversations’ were heard several times before the whale was eventually identified as the source. In fact, we discovered it when a diver mistook the whale for a human voice giving him underwater directions.’”

Because NOC was in captivity, he frequently heard human beings conversing, and, perhaps even speaking directly to him. However, once he matured, he just stuck to making whale sounds. (The way it should be, really.)

Sam Ridgway, President of the National Marine Mammal Foundation said about his hopes for the findings, “While it’s been a number of years since we first encountered this spontaneous mimicry, it’s our hope that publishing our observations now will lead to further discoveries about marine mammal learning and vocalization. How this unique ‘mind’ interacts with other animals, humans and the ocean environment is a major challenge of our time.”

Hear the sounds for yourself.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

About Ali Berman

Ali Berman is the author of Choosing a Good Life: Lessons from People Who Have Found Their Place in the World (Hazelden) and Misdirected (Seven Stories Press). She works as a humane educator for HEART teaching kids about issues affecting people, animals and the environment. Her published work can be found on her website at aliberman.com. In early 2012 Ali co-founded flipmeover, a production company with the mission to use media to raise awareness of social issues.

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