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From Dr. Doolittle to Jane Goodall, human-animal communication has occupied our thoughts both in fiction and in reality. Dogs recognize their names when they are called; researchers have successfully taught primates to communicate in sign language; and the famed African gray parrot, Alex, built a vocabulary of over 100 English words out of which he learned to form cogent sentences. All of these examples show humans reaching out to communicate with animals, but what happens when animals try to speak with us?

For the first time researchers have released a recording of the spontaneous impersonation of human speech out of the mouth. . . or spout of a beluga whale. The unexpected speaker was a cetacean (the scientific name for beluga whales) named NOC, residing in San Diego, California at the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program. After seven years under the care of researchers in the program, NOC began to produce vocalizations that sounded remarkably similar to human speech, but unlike dolphins or marine mammals in similar programs, NOC was never trained to do so.

Sam Ridgway, president of the National Marine Mammal Foundation, released a paper in Current Biology Magazine describing the odd mechanics NOC had to master in order to produce such human-like sounds. By applying pressure sensors to detect vibrations in NOC’s nasal passages, Ridgway concluded that NOC was using a structure that appears in dolphins and some whales known as “phonic lips.” The cetacean controlled this unlikely organ to mitigate the flow of sound out of his nasal cavity (the blowhole on top of his head) in the same way humans control their vocal chords.

Though NOC sadly passed away in 1999, his voice lives on in the recordings that have inspired this exciting new development in human-animal communication.

Give it a listen. What do you think NOC is saying?

120 Comments

  1. Obama -  January 17, 2013 - 7:50 am

    My dog can do better.

    Reply
  2. HHN -  December 15, 2012 - 11:03 am

    nothing cool about this.I don’t want some animal pleading with me not to throw them to the lions or devour it myself.Particularly like the ones that get thrown alive into boiling water.

    Reply
  3. bob -  December 4, 2012 - 4:27 pm

    Narwhals are cool yeehaw

    Reply
  4. American Dad -  November 29, 2012 - 9:00 am

    :) :) :) :) :) :) :*(((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((

    Reply
  5. chinkee -  November 24, 2012 - 6:17 pm

    oh!! cool! :-D :)))

    Reply
  6. Catie -  November 15, 2012 - 6:49 am

    :) HAHAHAHAHA that is so funny

    Reply
  7. antman -  November 1, 2012 - 3:06 pm

    So long, and thanks for all the fish,
    So sad that it should come to this,
    we tried to warn you but oh dear!

    So long, so long and thanks for all the fish………

    Reply
  8. Daniela Towson -  October 30, 2012 - 6:41 pm

    I wish they could talk!!!

    Reply
  9. Stacey R. -  October 30, 2012 - 3:20 pm

    The tune sort-of sounds like “Happy Birthday”.

    Reply
  10. Stacey R. -  October 30, 2012 - 2:51 pm

    I’d be curious who cared for this animal? Who was most connected to NOC? To me, it does sound like a song. Perhaps that was the easiest way NOC could imitate human sounds with musical sounds. Or was there someone who sang songs around NOC? What songs did he/she sing? This is a fascinating story!

    Reply
  11. SANDYFRANKENSTORM | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  October 28, 2012 - 4:28 pm

    [...] — It’s Nature we’re a Part of on the Earth — The Sandy Frankenstorm and the Beluga Whale. — That’s actually not that  odd. — For ever What it’s Worth. [...]

    Reply
  12. Yash Pratap Bahadur Shahi -  October 28, 2012 - 3:23 pm

    Awesome!

    Reply
  13. patrick mccloud -  October 25, 2012 - 6:45 pm

    AH THAT IS THE CUTEST THING IV’E EVER SEEN AND THE PEOPLE THAT HATE HIM NEED TO GET OVER IT BECAUSE THAT DOLPHIN IS SO CUTE LOTS OF PEOPLE AGRE WITH ME

    Reply
  14. Bagheera B -  October 25, 2012 - 4:59 pm

    What researchers should have done is record every word spoken to NOC. Then they could have compared NOC’s vocal patterns to human speech patterns to see if there were any similarities. He may have been repeating human language associated with specific meaning.

    Reply
  15. Eyewitness -  October 25, 2012 - 2:26 pm

    As long as we are on the subject of Beluga Whales, what is their relationship to Beluga Caviar? If a Beluga Whale is a mammal. not a fish, then how does ‘caviar’ enter the picture? Or do I REALLY not want to know.

    Reply
  16. yo mama -  October 25, 2012 - 12:57 pm

    ERMAGERD I LERVE DERPHINS!!!!! I HERP THEY TERK MER ERFTERN!!!!

    Reply
  17. johnesh -  October 25, 2012 - 3:12 am

    It really sounds like he’s singing “I Do Like To Be Beside the Seaside”, which is apt.

    Reply
  18. Jessie -  October 24, 2012 - 11:57 pm

    that is sooo cool!!!
    i love animals!!!
    they are so cool!!
    i wish i could speak whale
    OMG!ONG!OMG!OMG!

    Reply
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