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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Beluga Speaks Human

Author: Guest Writer/Monday, October 22, 2012/Categories: Uncategorized

Recently, one of our guest contributors was very discouraged that her favorite songster as a kid, Raffi, had tricked her into thinking his song, Baby Beluga, was in fact based in truth and fact. Instead, she informed us that he was "a big, fat, stinking liar” and her kid’s imagination was crushed. Baby Beluga must have been of considerable influence on many a kid’s imagination.

I was reminded of her distress after learning that a real-life beluga had confused marine mammal researchers at the National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF) with its human-like speech. The close vocal mimicry of human words was discovered when a NMMF diver exclaimed: “who told me to get out?” when resurfacing from swimming in the foundation’s pool with a captive beluga at their facilities near San Diego. The chatty beluga has been named NOC. Once NOC was identified as the “speaker”, recordings of his vocal behavior were made and analysis showed that the frequencies within them were spread out into "harmonics" very unlike whales' normal vocalizations---more like words produced by humans. According to Sam Ridgway, President of the NMMF and lead author of the paper in Current Biology:

"Our observations suggest that the beluga had to modify its vocal mechanics in order to make the speech-like sounds. The sounds we heard were clearly an example of vocal learning by the white whale."


NOC, the Talking Beluga

(credit: NMMF)

You can listen to his recording speech in this short recording here:

Beluga Mimics Human Speech (credit: NMMF)

This is all remarkable and may lead to additional ways of beginnings to understand the communications of marine mammals of whales and dolphins. It might even restore a bit of wonder to the disappointed a kid once experienced who believed in the words of Baby Beluga to excite her curiosity and imagination.



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