A young boy yells to his parents as a beluga whale plays with a ball in its enclosure behind him, at the Beijing Aquarium (Photo : Reuters)
Some whales have the ability to match the frequency of human voices, according to a recent study in the journal Current Biology.
Discovery News reports that researchers have found an "amplitude rhythm in [a white whale named NOC's] vocalizations that was comparable to human speech" and that the "fundamental frequencies in the whale's vocalizations were also in the same range of human speech and were several octaves lower than the whale's usual sounds."
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However, NOC is not the first whale to exhibit such behavior.
In an interview with Discovery News, study author Sam Ridgeway of the National Marine Mammal Foundation states: "A major instance occurred at Vancouver Aquarium in 1979. In that case, people thought the whale uttered his name ("Lagosi") and other sounds that were like garbled German or Russian. Our whale was the second example, however, ours was the first solid demonstration using acoustic analysis including 'voice print' simultaneously with human speech."
Interestingly, NOC ceased to mimic human vocal patterns after turning 3 or 4 years old. Discovery notes that hormonal changes attributed to sexual maturity may have reduced the whale's desire to match frequencies with their trainer.
"We trained the whale to interact with us acoustically for hearing test and for reaction time determinations, among other things. For this new work, the whale was responding to us vocally. These responses may have limited his interest in the human speech-like sounds," adds Ridgeway.
The author details that whales are vocal animals that that overhearing underwater communication may have fed into its desire to respond to human frequencies.