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LISTEN: Male Beluga Whale Mimics Human Speech

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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

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