Researchers from the National Marine Mammal Foundation were shocked to find their male beluga whale named Noc could make noises remarkably similar to human sounds.
The BBC noted that beluga whales are well-known as the "canaries of the sea" for their high-pitched chirps. While there have been a number of anecdotal reports of whales making human-like sounds, none had ever been recorded before.
The group of researchers told the BBC that when a diver at the National Marine Mammal Foundation in California surfaced saying, "Who told me to get out?" they researchers there knew they had another example of Noc's human vocalizations.
The group then studied Noc's vocal patterns and published the results in the latest issue of Current Biology. The study revealed an "amplitude rhythm in NOC's vocalizations that was comparable to human speech," according to Discovery. The group noted in the study that Noc's fundamental frequencies were in the same range of human speech and were several octaves lower than the whale's usual sounds.
The researchers also explained that speaking like a human was no easy task for the beluga whale. "Our observations suggest that the whale had to modify its vocal mechanics in order to make the speech-like sounds," Sam Ridgway, president of the National Marine Mammal Foundation and lead author on the paper, told the BBC. "The sounds we heard were clearly an example of vocal learning by the white whale."
To finally capture Noc's human-like sounds, the scientists rewarded him with snacks when he made those sounds, prompting him to do so enough times for them to capture the following recording:
While Noc was certainly something special, he isn't the only whale to exhibit this kind of behavior. According to LiveScience there have been other anecdotal reports of whales sounding like humans. For example, at Vancouver Aquarium marine mammal keepers suggested that a white whale had uttered his name, "Lagosi."
What do you think Noc was saying in the recording?