Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Around the Arctic October 23, 2012 - 7:28 am

Belugas mimic human voices: study

"The whale's vocalizations often sounded as if two people were conversing in the distance,"


Can belugas mimic human speech?

A new paper published by the marine mammal advocacy group, the National Marine Mammal Foundation, in the scientific journal Current Biology details the case of a beluga named Noc who began to mimic the human voice.

“The whale’s vocalizations often sounded as if two people were conversing in the distance,” says Dr. Sam Ridgway, the foundation’s president. “These ‘conversations’ were heard several times before the whale was eventually identified as the source. In fact, we discovered it when a diver mistook the whale for a human voice giving him underwater directions.”

As soon as the whale was identified as the source, the group’s scientists recorded his speech-like episodes both in air and underwater, studying how he was able to mimic the sounds.

In an Oct. 22 news release, the organization says it’s believed that the beluga’s close association with people played a role in how often he employed his “human” voice, as well as in its quality.

After about four years, Noc’s speech-like behavior subsided, the news release said.

“When NOC matured, we no longer heard speech-like sounds, but he did remain quite vocal,” Ridgway said. “While it’s been a number of years since we first encountered this spontaneous mimicry, it’s our hope that publishing our observations now will lead to further discoveries about marine mammal learning and vocalization. How this unique ‘mind’ interacts with other animals, humans and the ocean environment is a major challenge of our time.”


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