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Hear the Surprising Audio of a Beluga Whale 'Singing' Like a Human


"They were definitely unlike usual sounds..."

In a Dr. Dolittle-like story, scientists have captured and analyzed audio of a non-human mammal mimicking human speech.

A beluga whale named Noc, captured while still in its youth in the 1970s, was among the first to be observed demonstrating human mimicry among the whale species. In fact, the whale song sounded so eerily human that divers initially thought it was a human voice. New Scientist reported that in 1984 a diver surfaced in Doc's tank asking who told him to get "out, out, out"?  Turns out it was Noc.

Beluga whale and its handler. (Photo: Wikimedia)

New Scientist reported that stories of beluga's mimicking humans have been shared before, but a new report from the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego is the first time they were analyzed scientifically.

"We were skeptical at first," Sam Ridgway with the National Marine Mammal Foundation said, according to New Scientist. "They were definitely unlike usual sounds for a [beluga], and similar to human voices in rhythm and acoustic spectrum."

Listen to a beluga's human-like singing in this ABC World News report:

An acoustic analysis revealed the sounds were several octaves lower than typical whale calls. The research was published online Monday in Current Biology.

Scientists think the whale's close proximity to people allowed it to listen to and mimic human conversation. It did so by changing the pressure in its nasal cavities. After four years of copying people, it went back to sounding like a whale, emitting high-pitched noises. It died five years ago.

Dolphins and parrots have been taught to mimic the patterns of human speech, but it's rare for an animal to do it spontaneously.

The study is not the first time a whale has sounded human. Scientists who have studied sounds of white whales in the wild sometimes heard what sounded like shouting children. Caretakers at the Vancouver Aquarium in Canada previously said they heard one of the white whales say its name.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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