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Science

Captive Beluga Was Able To Mimic Speech 103

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the must-eat-the-humans dept.
ananyo writes "'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 outbursts began in 1984 and lasted for about four years, until NOC hit sexual maturity. NOC likely learned to imitate humans by listening to them speak underwater and on the surface. The whale's human-like calls are several octaves lower than normal whale calls, a similar pitch to human speech. Researchers trained NOC to 'speak' on command, and determined that he makes the sounds by increasing the pressure of the air that courses through his nasal cavities. They think that he then modified the sounds by manipulating the shape of his phonic lips, small vibrating structures that sit above each nasal cavity. A recording of NOC's speech is embedded in the story. He sounds remarkably like a kazoo."
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Captive Beluga Was Able To Mimic Speech

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  • by rjshirts (567179) on Monday October 22, 2012 @05:56PM (#41734859)
    "So long, and thanks for all the fish."
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 22, 2012 @06:33PM (#41735175)

      Or he was saying:

      "Ahhh! Woooh! What's happening? Who am I? Why am I here? What's my purpose in life? What do I mean by who am I? Okay okay, calm down calm down get a grip now. Ooh, this is an interesting sensation. What is it? Its a sort of tingling in my... well I suppose I better start finding names for things. Lets call it a... tail! Yeah! Tail!..."

      • Bah! It's nothing, the other day I saw a sponge on a TV show which was capable to speak and understand the human language.
        • by nospam007 (722110) *

          Indeed. I have a bird that talks better than me and it has only a brain the size of a pea.
          Don't know what that says about me.

        • >the human language. ...the what ? You're aware that the species known as "homo sapience" or colloquially "human" have more than one language right ?

          • by colesw (951825)
            I've seen said sponge speak in English, Spanish, Chinese, and other various "human" languages, so I don't think OP was that wrong :)
    • by jrumney (197329)
      "I can haz caviarrrrr?"
  • Even gave the handlers a raspberry at the end.
  • I for one welcome our speech mimicing beluga whale overlords.

  • Whoa! Not only can he talk, but he does it through his belly button!

  • Across many species the ability to mimic other creatures is commonplace. In this case, the notion that the beluga was "trained" makes it difficult to assess whether there was actual comprehension of the meaning and/or purpose of the mimicked sound(s). This makes the story nothing more than a parallel to circus-trained animal stories.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Across many species the ability to mimic other creatures is commonplace. In this case, the notion that the beluga was "trained" makes it difficult to assess whether there was actual comprehension of the meaning and/or purpose of the mimicked sound(s). This makes the story nothing more than a parallel to circus-trained animal stories.

      Considering NOC (the beluga) provided the stimulus and the human diver got out of the tank, I agree with you.
      NOC has those divers trained like circus animals. I doubt they comprehend the beluga's pleasure at seeing them perform.

    • Agreed, though I suppose it is also worth noting, marine mammals are believed to possibly have comparably complex language system to humans. Of course similar could be said of parrots etc... while they don't have a complex language of their own, one can certainly teach parrots to identify and name hundreds of items etc... Of course teaching syntax etc... that may be more difficult, as far as I know only apes have that capability.
    • by tverbeek (457094) on Monday October 22, 2012 @07:11PM (#41735523) Homepage

      I see no reason to think from this that the beluga had any comprehension of human speech; the sounds he produced don't seem to have any real meaning, and I'm skeptical that he could have discerned any meaning in the sounds of humans talking to each other from the limited context of them.

      However... given the brain capacity of the animal (greater than a simple mimic like a parrot), I do wonder whether he was actually making a crude, conscious attempt to communicate. He may have been adjusting his pitch and sounds to match what he was hearing, in much the same way that stupid humans will speak their own language with a foreign accent when trying to communicate with someone who speaks another language, or in the same way that humans will bark or meow at pets, in a playful attempt at communicating with them in their own language. That is, he may have figured out that these sounds humans make are a form of (possibly intelligent) communication – much like we figured out the same regarding whale songs – and he was trying to show that he understood that fact by making similar sounds.

      • by 0111 1110 (518466)

        Who are you calling a simple mimic? Parrots have been shown to understand concepts. To have the ability to generalize from concrete instances. To create abstractions. Categories. And possibly to plan for the future as well.

        • by Kittenman (971447)

          Who are you calling a simple mimic? Parrots have been shown to understand concepts. To have the ability to generalize from concrete instances. To create abstractions. Categories. And possibly to plan for the future as well.

          Citation needed.

          In 'Broca's Brain', Carl Sagan mentioned that the great apes (uh . not us) can learn sign language and communicate with us in that shared language - even to the extent of creating phrases for 'duck' (Water-bird). Now that is understanding concepts, etc.

          Parrots? I don't buy it. Yet.

      • It was actually a complex experiment from which the whale was attempting to discern if it's human servants were capable of intelligent thought.
    • You were trained to speak english by your parents, does that make you a circus animal? Do you comprehend the noises you make? Actually don't answer that, I have no way of knowing if your answer is just another trained response.that comkes from being taught that humans have "special" abilities that are not found elsewhere in the natural world.
  • I wonder if this [hulu.com] will happen.
  • by chihowa (366380) on Monday October 22, 2012 @06:18PM (#41735061)

    It's a swedish fish!

  • by guttentag (313541) on Monday October 22, 2012 @06:35PM (#41735195) Journal

    The outbursts began in 1984 and lasted about four years, until NOC hit sexual maturity.

    If only people were like that: all talk until they hit sexual maturity and suddenly realize they don't know anything. People just keep on talking, as evidenced by the slashdot crowd, who... Oh... wait. This explains so much...

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      It's like human children. They start off admiring and imitating their parents. Then one day upon reaching puberty they realize that parents are dorks who don't understand them.

  • ...but could it say "Jesus is watching you"?

  • by avgjoe62 (558860) on Monday October 22, 2012 @06:48PM (#41735311)
    We have a whale, another species on this planet, use human speech and the first thing he says is, essentially, "Get off my damn lawn, kid."
    • by Dunbal (464142) *
      Best bit is whales are talking to us before we can manage to talk to them. And we think WE are the intelligent ones...
  • by Lord_of_the_nerf (895604) on Monday October 22, 2012 @06:51PM (#41735333)
    I think we've discovered the Alexandra Wallace of the whale world.
  • by Penurious Penguin (2687307) on Monday October 22, 2012 @06:53PM (#41735361) Homepage Journal
    While I've spoken with many Narwhals Orating Cryptically, this is one Narratively Ostentatious Cetacean I'd really like to have a word with.
  • Good for NOC (Score:2, Interesting)

    by slick7 (1703596)
    If NOC learns to speak like a human, maybe we will be able to communicate. Just think, we can teach him to lie, cheat, steal, revel in the suffering of others. Wait until he gets a load of our politicians. GO NOC!
    • ...revel in the suffering of others...

      Killer whales like to torture baby seals in training their young to hunt: they are quite capable in reveling in suffering, if what looks like play (serious training, but play nonetheless) by them, when they are training young (just as we train young in "play", and enjoy it) is also "play" to them.

    • by l0ungeb0y (442022)

      Do you also hold hopes of having intelligent conversations with a parrot or mocking bird?
      There's a huge difference between mimicking sounds and understanding linguistics.

    • by torsmo (1301691)
      Well, it can't bloody learn anymore. It died, in 2007.
      • by slick7 (1703596)

        Well, it can't bloody learn anymore. It died, in 2007.

        The real question is, you're still alive what have you learned?

  • Sure, blame it on the whale. We all know it was a poltergeist.
  • that's sure to annoy my coworkers.
  • While the Beluga are aquatic, probably smarter, and definitely cuter than you, they are unlikely to replace you in the hearts of you pirate brethren.

    Mainly because at 5.5 meters (18 feet) long and at 1,600 kg (3,500 pounds), they do not fit on the shoulder of your average pirate.

    However, it is likely that the elder pirate gods, in their watery realm, prefer Beluga companions over parrots

    • by mevets (322601)

      | While the Beluga are aquatic, probably smarter...
      Probably smarter? They learned how to speak our language before we learned theirs! Despite us unleashing an army of scientists and amusement park employees on them; we still have to use whistles, and they have figured out what we mean when we blow them.
      Just imitating us? Donâ(TM)t think so - the diver thought he heard âoeGet Outâ. There was a documentary made about a house that said that to a nice family. It didnâ(TM)t end well.

  • until NOC hit sexual maturity.

    "Screw learning a foreign language, I wanna meet girls!"

  • All my NOC [wikipedia.org] knows how to do is open tickets, escalate them to engineering, wake me up in the middle of the night for false alerts, and generally annoy customers.

    Plus this cetacean NOC works for fish! Where can I sign up to get him on board?

    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      All my NOC [wikipedia.org] knows how to do is open tickets, escalate them to engineering, wake me up in the middle of the night for false alerts, and generally annoy customers.

      Plus this cetacean NOC works for fish! Where can I sign up to get him on board?

      Plus this cetacean NOC works for scale! Where can I sign up to get him on board?

  • Play it backwards, and it sounds like "I buried Paul".
  • Batman [youtube.com] to me.... Who gave this whale youtube access??
  • "Let me out, you stupid fucks."

    It's a shame the Beluga accent makes "out" sound like "eat" in English. And so the response to everything he did was to give him fish.
  • Dolphins, whales.. where's teh difference.

    Come back when you have real fish talking.

  • Captive Beluga Was Able To Mimic Speech

    That makes it sound like he's dead.

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