Whales have been observed mimicking human voices. But would they ever be able to speak?

By Jennifer Viegas
Mon Oct 22, 2012 12:00 PM ET

Certain whales can imitate the voices of humans, according to a new paper that highlights the vocal mimicry skills of one whale in particular.

The marine mammal, a white whale named NOC, copied the sound of people so well that at first, researchers thought they were hearing humans conversing in the distance. A diver who worked with NOC once even left the water, wondering, “Who told me to get out?” The voice turned out to be that of NOC.

“They are highly vocal animals,” lead author Sam Ridgway of the National Marine Mammal Foundation told Discovery News, adding that NOC was not the first to copy human speech.

“A major instance occurred at Vancouver Aquarium in 1979,” he said. “In that case, people thought the whale uttered his name (“Lagosi”) and other sounds that were like garbled German or Russian. Our whale was the second example, however, ours was the first solid demonstration using acoustic analysis including ‘voice print’ simultaneously with human speech.”

Read more: A Whale with a Human Voice : Discovery News.

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