Dictionary.com

Could an animal speak? Not just bark or meow, but actually speak.

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?

127 Comments

  1. Katherine -  May 24, 2014 - 5:48 pm

    This would be awesome if it made sense, but it doesn’t, so it sucks.

    Reply
  2. Dali Pea -  May 19, 2014 - 5:34 pm

    When the Armed Forces run these kinds of “programs” under the label of “research”, it makes me both suspicious and sad. Keeping advanced marine mammals such as dolphins and whales in captivity for any reason is in my opinion cruel and unnecessary – especially when it is for human entertainment… under the guise of wanting to be seen as caretakers and guardians of nature.
    These animals are far too intelligent to be performing parlour tricks for snacks. Free them all I say. Let them live their lives in peace. Better to die wild than live out their days as slaves.
    #EmptyTheTanks #BlackFish #TheCove

    Reply
    • Valeria -  May 24, 2014 - 12:30 pm

      Very true… Cetaceans deserve to be kept in the wild and all tanks will be empty! :)

      Reply
  3. Bonejaw -  May 19, 2014 - 12:37 pm

    “Could an animal speak?”

    This just in from 1859- humans are animals.

    Reply
  4. Obama -  January 17, 2013 - 7:50 am

    My dog can do better.

    Reply
  5. 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
  6. bob -  December 4, 2012 - 4:27 pm

    Narwhals are cool yeehaw

    Reply
    • chloe -  May 22, 2014 - 10:21 am

      Narwhals are amazing!

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

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

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

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

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

    :) HAHAHAHAHA that is so funny

    Reply
  10. 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
  11. Daniela Towson -  October 30, 2012 - 6:41 pm

    I wish they could talk!!!

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

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

    Reply
  13. 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
  14. 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
  15. Yash Pratap Bahadur Shahi -  October 28, 2012 - 3:23 pm

    Awesome!

    Reply
  16. 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
  17. 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
  18. 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
  19. yo mama -  October 25, 2012 - 12:57 pm

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

    Reply
  20. 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
  21. 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
  22. Steve M. -  October 24, 2012 - 10:19 pm

    Yes, it DOES sound like human speech! That’s incredible! It just goes to show we humans are really not as different from the animals as we often like to believe.

    Reply
  23. Ruffle -  October 24, 2012 - 8:48 pm

    Ha ha this is so cute! I bet he’s saying “feed me!”

    Reply
  24. Olivia -  October 24, 2012 - 8:31 pm

    that whale is so darn cuuuuuuuuuuuuute! <3

    Reply
  25. jojo -  October 24, 2012 - 8:28 pm

    ok, that is just pure amazing!! I cannot wait until science takes us to the next level until we can communicate with ALL species

    Reply
  26. dog -  October 24, 2012 - 7:46 pm

    That is awsome

    Reply
  27. Tigerfire -  October 24, 2012 - 7:46 pm

    Cetacean is a general term encompassing whales, dolphins, and porpoises.

    Reply
  28. killursoul -  October 24, 2012 - 7:30 pm

    That is some SMART whale!

    Reply
  29. awesome -  October 24, 2012 - 7:22 pm

    i cant believe he dided. :( i started to cry when i read that. ( blowes nose)
    he was such a good wale.

    Reply
  30. sofi -  October 24, 2012 - 6:58 pm

    this is so cool and awesome!!!!

    Reply
  31. darin -  October 24, 2012 - 6:48 pm

    amazing

    Reply
  32. calvin -  October 24, 2012 - 5:40 pm

    to Hannah,
    yes there is a video to this. i dont know the url but i know there is

    Reply
  33. meme -  October 24, 2012 - 5:39 pm

    i know that animal his name is drake and i was at home watching the news and i saw drake

    Reply
  34. Nshera -  October 24, 2012 - 5:26 pm

    Some say it’s a dream come true, some say it is demonic. I say…… It’s awesome! :-)

    Reply
  35. sandy -  October 24, 2012 - 4:54 pm

    love it!

    Reply
  36. blablabla -  October 24, 2012 - 4:24 pm

    wwwwwwwwoooooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww cool

    Reply
  37. Isabella -  October 24, 2012 - 4:19 pm

    Wow thats so interesting is there a video for this because I would like to see it.Thats just so cute,I wish my dog Sparkles could talk we would have talks together all the time.I love talking animals,but i think that human languege is to complex for a whale,but still adorable.

    Reply
  38. heyimawesome -  October 24, 2012 - 3:54 pm

    hey OMG that is so cool i wonder if its actually true!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  39. belugalover -  October 24, 2012 - 3:46 pm

    jegs1234 its NOT A DOLPHIN. its the coolest animal in the world called a beluga whale. get yo facts right!!!! :)

    Reply
  40. isabella -  October 24, 2012 - 3:37 pm

    COOOOOOOOOOOOOL i wish my dog could talk

    Reply
  41. elmer -  October 24, 2012 - 3:35 pm

    wow amazing me again

    Reply
  42. elmer -  October 24, 2012 - 3:34 pm

    woW AWESOME LOVE DOLPHINS HAHAHAH i love animal talking

    Reply
  43. Kempsley -  October 24, 2012 - 3:17 pm

    The animal didn’t speak. Anyone who think it spoke is a moron. It was probably just this captive animal’s way of asking for another fish to eat.

    This thread is full of idiots. The author is an idiot. I’m out.

    Reply
  44. Hope Armas -  October 24, 2012 - 3:07 pm

    This is sooooo cute & cool!!!!! I mean, I would have loved to be there when the beluga whale was talking, i would have been sooo surprised if it were like,” Hope, I love you alot! I want to be your best friend!” :D

    Reply
  45. Hanhah -  October 24, 2012 - 3:03 pm

    WOW!!!!!!!! THAT IS AMAZING! It makes me woner how!

    Reply
  46. sanai -  October 24, 2012 - 2:52 pm

    i wish i was in the water taking to it but i been doing for it to speak

    Reply
  47. Karinna -  October 24, 2012 - 2:52 pm

    WHOA!WHOA!WHOA!!!! TALKING ANIMAL!XD I HAVE AlWAYS DREAMED OF THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  48. sanai -  October 24, 2012 - 2:51 pm

    coollllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll

    Reply
  49. meghan -  October 24, 2012 - 2:10 pm

    i cant believe animals can actual talk! that is truly amazing!

    Reply
  50. zaire johnson -  October 24, 2012 - 2:09 pm

    cool

    Reply
  51. SA -  October 24, 2012 - 1:34 pm

    awww soo cuutee… but dont think i believe it! good point<: we r animals!

    Reply
  52. Craig Schoonmaker -  October 24, 2012 - 1:10 pm

    Why no explanation of the name “NOC”? It is shown in capitals, as tho it is an acronym or initialism, but you don’t say what it stands for nor how it is pronounced. I find that very odd. This is a dictionary site, but you don’t deal with the name of the beluga as a word that needs to be defined.

    Reply
  53. cristina -  October 24, 2012 - 12:56 pm

    heyyyy that is cool but my dog can talk to pleassssssse do not tell people the next thing you know I’ll have reporters at my door

    BBBBBBBBYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
    • neon -  May 19, 2014 - 7:48 pm

      well, if you don’t want reporters at your door, why did you post this on the internet, where millions of people can see it?

      Reply
  54. toby -  October 24, 2012 - 12:36 pm

    that’s kinda neat, but the beluga ain’t really SPEEKING he is just parroting back what he’s heard. He may kinda know what he’s saying. My dog Shiloh knows his name, the words here, out, no, walk, etc. but that doesn’t mean he can understand english, that just means he’s connected the two pieces of the puzzle.

    Reply
  55. BELUGAWHALE | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  October 24, 2012 - 12:24 pm

    [...] ‘Beluga Whale’ or Caviar — Every sturgeon’s right to know. — The First Cut is the Deepest — Ask any Mahi Mahi says Rousseau. — Occasionally Oui speak human, — Yet nobody understands. — The Monkeys on the Tour Bus — Or other RocknRoll Bands. — Understanding the Red Rose Marquis; — Lost vocal chords don’t cuss. — Whatever — Oui hear or see. — It all comes down to Lust. — How much and why do you want communication? — In this Wordly Food Chain situation. — Which other Food can you trust? –>>L.T.Rhyme [...]

    Reply
  56. jesse lavergne -  October 24, 2012 - 12:00 pm

    that is truly amazing what if it could teach other animals and we could communicate with them for diaster relief specialist the could find and help huricane victims and sinking ships they could help the coast guard and national guard

    Reply
  57. chocolatechips12347 -  October 24, 2012 - 11:52 am

    I definitely heard something about get in the water. and maybe I was just imagining the part about reading a book….

    Reply
  58. macmac -  October 24, 2012 - 11:35 am

    omggggggggggggg for real a real animal talking i herd of parrots talking but this wwwoooowww

    Reply
  59. SHayes -  October 24, 2012 - 11:29 am

    There are birds that can talk and I know that dogs understand us, but when I was little I was always wondering if all animals could talk to us, but never really wanting to…. Lol

    Reply
  60. S.H. -  October 24, 2012 - 10:37 am

    it sounds like it’s speaking a conversation but as humans sometimes see things blurry, you hear this conversation blurry.

    Reply
  61. Cassie -  October 24, 2012 - 10:28 am

    If more animals could speak we wouldn’t have to try to teach them English.

    Reply
  62. Small Potatoes -  October 24, 2012 - 10:27 am

    That does not sound like speech. It sounds more like a kazoo. I don’t hear any phonetics in there at all. It is interesting because it sounds MORE like speech than normal whale noises, but not nearly enough to be considered “impersonation of human speech.”

    Reply
  63. jordan -  October 24, 2012 - 10:13 am

    @dean….. it is kind of hard for people to believe you when an entire section of your comment was misspelled.

    Reply
  64. nelson1457 -  October 24, 2012 - 10:07 am

    In the 1980′s, there was a harbor seal at the New England Aquarium that spoke. His name was Hoover, and he was raised by a family in Maine after he was orphaned. He ate quite a bit – hence the name – and so they gave him to the Aquarium. I heard him do his thing on a warm February day, and will never forget him.

    Reply
  65. Gary -  October 24, 2012 - 10:05 am

    1999 and we’re just now hearing about this? Great!

    Reply
  66. Becca -  October 24, 2012 - 9:57 am

    Animals may be able to say the sounds, but that doesn’t mean they know what they’re saying. If I taught a dolphin the word “hello” over and over until he was able to say “el-lo”, then he would only be copying the sounds as he heard them. There is no way he could know what he is saying, and he could never learn to speak English or any other language fluently. Animals minds just don’t work that way.

    Reply
  67. wan yu -  October 24, 2012 - 9:47 am

    if a animal spoke that is alesome and cool

    Reply
  68. Laura -  October 24, 2012 - 9:43 am

    “So long and thanks for all the fish!”

    Reply
  69. Derk Miltonious -  October 24, 2012 - 9:40 am

    Cooooooooool Talking Dolphins Dude (>0_0)><(0_0<) Kirby Dance

    Reply
  70. e-jay -  October 24, 2012 - 9:34 am

    cool

    Reply
  71. Kevin JJ -  October 24, 2012 - 8:54 am

    Awesome!!!!!!

    Reply
  72. Moriah -  October 24, 2012 - 8:49 am

    I think your going to deep Lidia…. I dont know what he is saying, but he doesn’t sound happy… kind of like a cry..

    Reply
  73. ed -  October 24, 2012 - 8:40 am

    NOC said, “Let me outta here!”

    Reply
  74. zero 9 -  October 24, 2012 - 8:15 am

    it sounds most impressive to me!!!!

    Reply
  75. arlie -  October 24, 2012 - 8:03 am

    you should wright about some more:D WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D

    Reply
  76. arlie -  October 24, 2012 - 8:00 am

    he spoke his love to the people that was a great story

    Reply
  77. Lamiducheval -  October 24, 2012 - 7:44 am

    This discover confirms the necessity of respecting animals, for example by becoming vegetarian or vegan.

    Reply
  78. LKH -  October 24, 2012 - 7:42 am

    I think I read that he said “Get out of the water.”

    Reply
  79. No-One Inportant -  October 24, 2012 - 7:27 am

    Thats a First For Me….

    Reply
  80. marco -  October 24, 2012 - 6:57 am

    I can’t belive it????????????????????

    Reply
  81. Anonymouse -  October 24, 2012 - 6:56 am

    I think it’s a bit of a stretch to suggest that he is mimicking human speech. More like making noise as a means to show interest in interaction of some sort much like cats meow at their owners to get their attention.

    Reply
  82. Summer -  October 24, 2012 - 6:51 am

    Some people seem to forget that humans are animals… All animals communicate in their own language – Never underestimate their ability to understand; and please be kind to them. :)

    Reply
  83. Kayla -  October 24, 2012 - 5:49 am

    WoW thats cool I heard a bird speak but a WHALE wow thats amazing!!(:

    Reply
  84. Nancy -  October 24, 2012 - 5:43 am

    My school computer will not let me listen because of the website it’s placed on. I really wanted to hear it .

    Reply
  85. Jamie Spears -  October 24, 2012 - 5:41 am

    CUTE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!~

    Reply
  86. Celestial -  October 24, 2012 - 4:56 am

    He said, “Please don’t eat me, don’t eat me, thanks.”

    Reply
  87. Big D NZ -  October 24, 2012 - 4:51 am

    There’s only one phrase he was working on, of course! “So long, and thanks for all the fish!”.

    Reply
  88. Michelle -  October 24, 2012 - 4:05 am

    Amazing!!!

    Reply
  89. Laura -  October 24, 2012 - 3:24 am

    This sounds like the vocalization “practice” parrots do as they are learning to speak. Parrots will do this same sort of sing-song mumble of sounds and words. And as mentioned in the article, parrots have the ability to do more than mimic. I’ve had parrots form completely new cogent sentences they were never taught or would have ever heard. Animals learn so quickly how we communicate to them, why is it we think they need to speak our language for them to communicate back to us?

    Reply
  90. Dr. L. -  October 24, 2012 - 3:07 am

    “If a lion could speak, we could not understand him.”
    Ludwig Wittgenstein

    Reply
  91. Yankiemog -  October 24, 2012 - 12:01 am

    I hope that his grammar is better than the subscribers.

    There is a specially developed part of the human brain which animals do not have that deals with speech.. Does this whale have that?

    Reply
  92. hung -  October 23, 2012 - 11:03 pm

    Me too, I really want to communicating with animals ,it is amazing!

    Reply
  93. gejs1234 -  October 23, 2012 - 10:29 pm

    WOW! That is soooooo cool! I love dolphins! They’re my favourite animal and being able to speak to them! Lost for words!

    Reply
  94. Dean -  October 23, 2012 - 10:07 pm

    A number of clarifications need to be made so that people don’t start thinking this whale actually communicated in a human language. Firstly, the whale did not make sounds as words but was able to alter its expalation of air to make sounds approaching that range of sound that could make words, it did not speak at all, much les like a child. This wa sonly foud out aftet the wahla ewas long dead and someone started changing frequencies on the audio tape. Aldso, the article states: cetacean (the scientific name for beluga whales) but this is not correct. Cetacean is the scientific name for a family of marine mammals including whales and dolphins, not just beluga whales.

    Reply
  95. T -  October 23, 2012 - 10:03 pm

    This is awesome but I think they need more research on “language.” The dolphin seems communicate but his utterance doesn’t have syntax. I think its reactions or responding to actions or phenomenon, not communicate.

    Reply
  96. glee -  October 23, 2012 - 10:00 pm

    fantastic! :-)

    Reply
  97. bob -  October 23, 2012 - 9:02 pm

    so awesome

    Reply
  98. !!!!!! -  October 23, 2012 - 8:55 pm

    I would think it’s saying that it’s hungry for some fish

    Reply
  99. patrick -  October 23, 2012 - 8:44 pm

    its just like the audio on ghost hunters complete bs and just random noise

    Reply
  100. Eyewitness -  October 23, 2012 - 8:35 pm

    I have listened to the recording and must comment that the sound seems more like singing lyrics than speaking words. When words are spoken, presumably by humans, there is breath function called the glottal stop which automatically differentiates the ending of one word from the beginning of the next word. People do this without even realizing it. Conscious effort is one of the hallmarks of what we term, “public speaking.” It allows the listener in public or private exchanges to follow the word stream. NOC lacks any discernible glottal stop, which is one hallmark of singing. Terriffically interesting article.

    Reply
  101. darian -  October 23, 2012 - 8:31 pm

    awesome

    Reply
  102. LiSL -  October 23, 2012 - 7:51 pm

    Yes, this is amazing. Very amazing. However, no matter how well trained or how intelligent an animal is, it will never be able to communicate like a human being can. Our languages are simply too complex.

    Reply
  103. Gaby -  October 23, 2012 - 7:22 pm

    AWWW!!! This is so cute!!!!

    Reply
  104. amytheawsomeapricot -  October 23, 2012 - 6:44 pm

    i wish elephants and apricots could talk but that is awsome and cutelove talking whales!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  105. Lauren -  October 23, 2012 - 6:22 pm

    Hannah their is a video check out the Today’s show website. They had a special on it.

    Reply
  106. Bryan -  October 23, 2012 - 6:14 pm

    VERY COOOL

    Reply
  107. Bryan -  October 23, 2012 - 6:14 pm

    This is very cool

    Reply
  108. Rose -  October 23, 2012 - 5:51 pm

    Neat, but I want to see of a vid before I believe this.

    Reply
  109. Edwin -  October 23, 2012 - 5:38 pm

    Wow impresive. Next thing you know dolphins will be in congress

    Reply
  110. Carlina -  October 23, 2012 - 5:26 pm

    Thats so cool!! it would be better if it was a dolphin. But its still so cool!!

    Reply
  111. rachel -  October 23, 2012 - 4:54 pm

    awsome!!!

    Reply
  112. Lidia Munteanu-Ilie -  October 23, 2012 - 4:33 pm

    He spoke that he loves the people and he wants to play with you, and he invited you in water with him; he speaks simple like a child.

    Reply
  113. natasha -  October 23, 2012 - 4:03 pm

    omg that is so cute also omg because how could an animal talk whaooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo?

    Reply
    • Katherine -  May 24, 2014 - 5:47 pm

      *facepalm*

      Reply
  114. Hannah -  October 23, 2012 - 3:58 pm

    That is really cool. Is there a video about this whale?

    Reply
  115. andude49 -  October 23, 2012 - 3:32 pm

    WOW!!!!!!!

    Reply
  116. maria -  October 23, 2012 - 2:55 pm

    i’v always dreamed of talking animals. this is truly amazing. :)

    Reply

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