Wednesday 21 March 2018

Mumbling whale has become talk of the town

Steve Connor

One of the first indications that NOC the white whale was something out of the ordinary came when a diver, who had been swimming alongside him in his pen, came to the surface wondering who had told him to get out of the water.

Now, scientists have found that the captive creature, which made unusual mumbling sounds when he was in the presence of people, may have been trying to mimic his human companions.

An acoustic analysis of the sounds made by the beluga whale has revealed remarkable similarities to human speech patterns, indicating that the whale was trying to "reach out" to his human captors, scientists believe.


NOC, who died five years ago, was kept in an open-ocean pen at the US National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego, California. On one occasion, a diver surfaced after swimming in the pen and asked his colleagues, "Who told me to get out"? The whale was ultimately recognised as the source of the speech-like sounds.

Sam Ridgway, a researcher at the foundation, analysed the sound recordings made when NOC was alive and compared them with sounds made by the human voice.

The comparison revealed an astounding similarity that was even more remarkable given that whales vocalise by blowing air through their noses rather than using a larynx in the throat, which is how humans make vocal sounds. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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