Move over, parrots. There’s a new animal in town that can mimic the sound of humans talking, and it’s NOC, a male Beluga whale who was residing National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego in 1984 before he died five years ago. A recent study published by Current Biology in the latest October issue found that “spontaneous human speech mimicry by a cetacean” was possible thanks to recordings by NOC.
The story of NOC’s talking is actually quite adorable: Initially, divers claimed they’d always hear strange noises underwater but thought NOC’s voice was the sound of two people chattering in a distance. But when a group of divers trained outside of NOC’s enclosure and thought they heard someone telling them to get out, they realized it was NOC “speaking.” After the incident, divers began studying the series of sounds coming out of NOC’s mouth, and discovered that the white cetacean was mimicking the sounds of humans talking.
“[The] team recorded NOC’s calls, and found that their acoustic features were very unlike typical whale sounds, but not unlike those of human speech,” Discover Magazine reports. “The rhythm was comparable, with vocal bursts that lasted for around three seconds and gaps of less than 0.5 seconds.”
The study goes on to further find that it was unlikely that NOC learned how to speak, but was simply “interested” in the sounds heard around him. Which wouldn’t be surprising, given that whales are also pretty vocal animals, and closely related to its Cetacean sibling, the dolphin. Eventually, the study ended as NOC began to slowed his speech after four years, and passed after 30 years at the NMMF.
So I bet you’re dying to hear how a beluga whale interprets the way we talk. Hold on to your hats, the accuracy is going to blow your mind.
Not what you were expecting, huh? Yes, his voice sounds a bit like a kazoo, but to NOC’s credit, he’s pretty on par with an average Ke$ha song — and it’s honestly not too far off from the typical city chatter or a person fighting on the phone with a telemarketer. Had this discovery been around just a couple of years earlier, he would have been a great candidate for a collaboration with Beyonce and Jay-Z’s daughter for a record-breaking single, featuring baby Ivy Blue and NOC the talking Beluga. Ah, the possibilities. Rest in peace, NOC, and thanks for wonderful human depiction.
Image Credit: Flickr/Lars Plougmann