NOC, the Whale Who Tried To Mimic Humans (Audio)

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Oct. 23 2012 10:03 AM

LISTEN: NOC, the Whale Who Tried To Mimic Humans

For the first time, researchers have shown that a whale can mimic human speech, with a kazoo-like, slightly unhinged call that you can hear above.

The special whale in question, NOC, was a beluga who lived at the National Marine Mammal Foundation in California. In 1984, workers noticed bizarre, human-like sounds coming from an enclosure. Eventually, they traced them back to the NOC when a startled man working in his tank leapt out and asked, “Who told me to get out?"

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NOC did, researchers concluded. Acoustic analysis later showed sounds much different than the ones whales typically make, with low frequencies closer to human speech. NOC apparently used elaborate nasal and muscle movements to mimic his captors.

Dolphins have previously been shown to have a similar ability, but NOC, who died five years ago, is the first whale. Though given their reputation as “canaries of the sea” and their fondness for Mariachi bands, perhaps it isn’t surprising that a beluga would also one day try to speak.

Jeffrey Bloomer is a Slate assistant editor focused on video. Follow him on Twitter.

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