Beluga whale is more than just a pretty face

 

At first glance, Noc the beluga whale provokes an “aww” and perhaps a “how cute”. However, behind his cute animal façade the nine-year-old has been hiding and honing an extraordinary skill. On the sly at the National Marine Mammal Foundation in California, Noc has learnt to mimic human speech.

The discovery was made as a diver climbed out of the pool in which he was training with the whale. As he emerged from the water, he asked who had told him to get out. No answer came, and eventually researchers concluded that the noise had come from the mischievous beluga.

Noc’s ability was then proved to be more than just a one off; researchers trained him to “speak” on command, and fitted a device into his nasal cavity to monitor how he carried out his amazing feat. It soon came to light that what Noc had achieved was no easy task, involving manipulation of his vocal system to create his unique, lower pitched sound.

Of course, Noc isn’t the first creature to mimic human speech, following parrots and to some extent dolphins, but he is the first to successfully manage it untrained.

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