Move over, Moby Dick. Scientists have found a white whale capable of imitating human speech.
This male beluga whale named Noc can mimic the voices of humans, scientists report Oct. 23, 2012 in the journal Current Biology.
These findings, the first to show that whales can mimic the voices of humans, suggest that researchers might want to analyze other whales for similar abilities.
Beluga whales, also known as white whales, are known as "the canaries of the sea" because of how vocal they are. They are not the same kind of whale as the monstrous giant of the story "Moby Dick," which was a white sperm whale — belugas are actually among the smallest species of whales.
Listen to Noc
In 1984, scientists at the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego began noticing unusual noises emanating from where they kept the whales and dolphins. These resembled two people conversing in the distance, just beyond the range of the understanding of listeners.
Researchers traced these sounds back to one male white whale, Noc, when a diver surfaced from the whale enclosure to ask his colleagues an odd question: "Who told me to get out?" The investigators concluded sounds resembling "out" came from Noc.
There were plenty of opportunities for Noc to hear human speech. He had previously overheard people talking at the surface, and had also heard them using devices that allowed them to speak with divers underwater.
Anecdotal reports have surfaced in the past of whales sounding like humans. For instance, at Vancouver Aquarium, keepers suggested that a white whale about 15 years of age had uttered his name, "Lagosi."
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