Animal Emotions

Do animals think and feel?

Beluga Whale Mimics Human Voices: Blurring Borders

This is the first demonstration of a whale, Noc, mimicking human voices

This story, hot off the press, of a captive beluga whale named Noc mimicking human voices is well-worth reporting (see also where there is a great video of Noc, and here). It's the first demonstration of a whale mimicking human voices.  

Here's a great teaser to draw you into this fascinating discovery: “Who told me to get out?” asked a diver, surfacing from a tank in which a whale named NOC lived. The beluga’s caretakers had heard what sounded like garbled phrases emanating from the enclosure before, and it suddenly dawned on them that the whale might be imitating the voices of his human handlers." The abstract of the original research report can be seen here.

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Canaries of the sea

Belugas are also called white whales and "canaries of the sea" because of their highly developed vocal repertoire. What Noc does is unexpected and fascinating. To wit, "These sounds are even more surprising because whales typically produce sounds in a completely different way from people, using their nasal tracts and not the voice box or larynx as humans do. To make these humanlike sounds, Noc had to vary the air pressure in his nasal tract while adjusting liplike valves and over-inflating sacs under his blowhole."

I love reading about research like this because it shows clearly that we need to be very careful when constructing boundaries between ourselves and other species. Sure, we are exceptional and unique, but so too are individuals of other species.

Get Out

Stay tuned for more on the fascinating lives of other animals. I look forward to learning more about the behavior of wild "canaries of the sea" and also further discussion about the ethics of keeping animals such as Noc in captivity ( see also). Noc died in captivity five years ago. Here's an interesting question to ponder: "And what did one of the staff at this captive facility believe he heard Noc say when he was in the water cleaning his pool? ‘Out’ Was that ‘Get out’ or ‘Let me Out’? Perhaps we’ll never know."

Note: For more on the timing of the release of these results and efforts to bring more belugas into captivity see this essay

The teaser image can be found here

 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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