The Whale With a Human Voice
NOC is the name of a beluga whale who’s been all over the news lately. He has a particular talent: he tries to the mimic human voice. In the audio above, you hear him communicating not via a whale’s normal nasal squeaks and whistles, but by vibrations of the larynx, just like us.
Sure, it’s unintelligible. But researchers think that it’s unmistakably a copy of the human voices he’s heard while in captivity at San Diego’s National Marine Mammal Foundation. He vocalizes randomly for the most part, sometimes to himself, and sometimes when human handlers are around … but never to other whales. Once, a diver got out of the water after hearing the sounds, thinking a fellow handler had ordered him out!
NOC was actually able to learn a new way of making sound, using a whale’s version of vocal muscles and a completely new way of moving air through his throat. Not only that, it’s at frequencies lower than this species normally uses.
Belugas and other social whale species like dolphins probably use “vocal learning” abilities like this to communicate with members of their species from different groups, and we’ve seen blue whales that can teach mating calls to members of other pods. But this sort of trans-species learning might be unprecedented.
Simply remarkable. Cetaceans never cease to amaze.
(Ed Yong has a great post with more)
It sounds like a baby that wants me to be its mama. It’s human beluga mama.