In late 2012, researchers at the National Marine Mammal Foundation published their acoustic analysis of the voice of a beluga, or white, whale named NOC, who can, apparently, imitate the voices of humans. Sam Ridgway of the National Marine Mammal Foundation said:
Our observations suggest that the whale had to modify its vocal mechanics in order to make the speech-like sounds. Such obvious effort suggests motivation for contact.
To hear the sound of NOC’s voice, click play below:
Ridway and others thought they were hearing two people talking, just out of the range of their understanding, when they first noticed NOC’s voice coming from a whale and dolphin enclosure in 1984. Prior to that time, there’s been anecdotal reports of whales sounding like humans, but no real evidence or analysis. Ridway and his colleagues recorded the whale’s sounds to reveal a rhythm similar to human speech and fundamental frequencies several octaves lower than typical whale sounds, much closer to that of the human voice, they said. The researchers reported their findings in the October 23 issue of the journal Current Biology.
The scientists said NOC had lived among dolphins and other white whales and had often been in the presence of humans.
They said whales make sounds via their nasal tract, not in the larynx as humans do. They reported:
To make those human-like sounds, NOC had to vary the pressure in his nasal tract while making other muscular adjustments and inflating the vestibular sac in his blowhole. In other words, it wasn’t easy.
Bottom line: Scientists at the National Marine Mammal Foundation published an acoustic analysis of the voice of NOC, a beluga, or white, whale, whose can make a human-like sound.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.