A whale with a distinctly human-like voice
For the first time, researchers have been able to show by acoustic analysis that whales -- or at least one very special white whale -- can imitate the voices of humans. That's a surprise, because whales typically produce sounds in a manner that is wholly different from humans, say researchers who report their findings in the October 23 issue of Current Biology, a Cell Press publication. "Our observations suggest that the whale had to modify its vocal mechanics in order to make the speech-like sounds," said Sam Ridgway of the National Marine Mammal Foundation. "Such obvious effort suggests motivation for contact."
It all started in 1984 when Ridgway and others began to notice some unusual sounds in the vicinity of the whale and dolphin enclosure. As they describe it, it sounded as though two people were conversing in the distance, just out of range of their understanding.
Those unusually familiar sounds were traced back to one white whale in particular only some time later when a diver surfaced from the whale enclosure to ask his colleagues an odd question: "Who told me to get out?"
They deduced that those utterances came from a most surprising source: a white whale by the name of NOC. That whale had lived among dolphins and other white whales and had often been in the presence of humans.
In fact, there had been other anecdotal reports of whales sounding like humans before, but in this case Ridgway's team wanted to capture some real evidence. They recorded the whale's sounds to reveal a rhythm similar to human speech and fundamental frequencies several octaves lower than typical whale sounds, much closer to that of the human voice.
"Whale voice prints were similar to human voice and unlike the whale's usual sounds," Ridgway said. "The sounds we heard were clearly an example of vocal learning by the white whale."
That's all the more remarkable because whales make sounds via their nasal tract, not in the larynx as humans do. To make those human-like sounds, NOC had to vary the pressure in his nasal tract while making other muscular adjustments and inflating the vestibular sac in his blowhole, the researchers found. In other words, it wasn't easy.
Sadly, after 30 years at the National Marine Mammal Foundation, NOC passed away five years ago. But the sound of his voice lives on.
Audio file of whale: http://www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/48866.php?from=224114
Source: Cell Press
- From talking whales to signing simians: the best videosfrom The Guardian - ScienceWed, 24 Oct 2012, 7:31:10 EDT
- Video: Beluga whale mimics human speechfrom CBSNews - ScienceTue, 23 Oct 2012, 16:00:30 EDT
- Talking whale named Noc mimics human speech - videofrom The Guardian - ScienceTue, 23 Oct 2012, 3:00:55 EDT
- Talking whale named Noc is revealedfrom The Guardian - ScienceMon, 22 Oct 2012, 22:30:28 EDT
- "Talking" Whale Could Imitate Human Voicefrom National GeographicMon, 22 Oct 2012, 19:30:15 EDT
- Whale recorded mimicking human speechfrom UPIMon, 22 Oct 2012, 18:00:27 EDT
- Study: Male beluga whale mimics human speechfrom AP ScienceMon, 22 Oct 2012, 17:30:50 EDT
- Whale recorded mimicking human speechfrom UPIMon, 22 Oct 2012, 17:30:28 EDT
- A whale with a distinctly human-like voicefrom Biology News NetMon, 22 Oct 2012, 17:30:21 EDT
- The Beluga whale that could talkfrom CBSNews - ScienceMon, 22 Oct 2012, 15:01:17 EDT
- A whale with a distinctly human-like voicefrom Science DailyMon, 22 Oct 2012, 14:31:13 EDT
- A whale with a distinctly human-like voicefrom PhysorgMon, 22 Oct 2012, 13:02:02 EDT
- Hear the whale that talked like a humanfrom MSNBC: ScienceMon, 22 Oct 2012, 12:31:48 EDT
- Whale 'makes human-like sounds'from BBC News: Science & NatureMon, 22 Oct 2012, 12:31:21 EDT
- White Whale Speaks Human | Videofrom Live ScienceMon, 22 Oct 2012, 12:30:55 EDT
- Male Beluga Whale Mimics Human Voicefrom Live ScienceMon, 22 Oct 2012, 12:30:52 EDT
- The whale that talkedfrom News @ NatureMon, 22 Oct 2012, 11:30:55 EDT
- Beluga sighted in Montreal's Old Port at risk of infectionfrom CBC: Technology & ScienceMon, 22 Oct 2012, 9:30:58 EDT
Latest Science NewsletterGet the latest and most popular science news articles of the week in your Inbox! It's free!
Check out our next project, Biology.Net
From other science news sites
Popular science news articles
- New study shows impact of man-made structures on Louisiana's coastal wetlands
- Jasmonate-deficient tobacco plants attract herbivorous mammals
- Surprising qualities of insulator ring surfaces
- RIT professors create new method for identifying black holes
- Sign languages provide insight into universal linguistic short-cuts