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Parrots of the Sea
October 22, 2012 8:34 PM   Subscribe

Researchers think that the late beluga whale named NOC had been trying to speak with a human accent – or at least talk to its keepers. Current Biology has more (PDF link).
posted by barnacles (49 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
So long, and thanks for all the fish.

It's kind of strange that this is coming out now though, considering the whale died half a decade ago, and only made the sounds before he reached sexual maturity.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 8:48 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sure, why not? Dogs do it.
posted by maryr at 8:50 PM on October 22, 2012


(Or we do it to dogs. I've never quite been sure.)
posted by maryr at 8:50 PM on October 22, 2012


That beluga must be Crank Sturgeon.
posted by idiopath at 8:51 PM on October 22, 2012


Translation: "Let me out of this fucking tank or you'll have the death of the smartest whale on your hands!"
posted by dobbs at 8:59 PM on October 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't know. It kinda sounds like it's mocking us.
posted by crackingdes at 9:03 PM on October 22, 2012 [7 favorites]


Oh, man, he was trying to talk to us? And we just carried on gawking? That's genuinely sad. He must have felt like we were ignoring his attempts to connect on a meaningful level.
                      . .
                    '.-:-.`  
                    '  :  `
                 .-----:     
               .'       `.
         ,    /       (o) \   
         \`._/         ' __)
     ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

posted by subbes at 9:05 PM on October 22, 2012 [34 favorites]


Sounds like the parents in a Peanuts TV-movie.
posted by goethean at 9:08 PM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


If one could find a male/female matched pair that succeeded in breeding in captivity over generations, also encouraging more juvenile traits such as what has been done with domesticated dogs - if I understand this right, in broad strokes that over time selective breeding has created dogs that stay in the puppy/young adult stage longer, at least when it comes to physical features like bone structure and such, thus addressing the 'stops talking at maturity' problem.

Maybe in 20 generations or so, we could have a whale that can mimic words as good as a parrot, and maybe after 50 their brains will be able to express basic thoughts. I know their already smart, but restructuring/encouraging/pruning an animal's speech center through selective breeding is wild enough - having it actually use it to express itself in a mode that we can understand is not just shooting the moon but shooting a very small man running around all higglety-pigglety all over the surface of the moon.

It would be just humanity's luck after a century or two of work, to end up with a bunch of talking whales that are just a bunch of assholes who just like making fart noises and acting like Beavis and Butthead.

Scratch that. Actually, that would be pretty cool. The lab reports should still read: Huge Success.
posted by chambers at 9:12 PM on October 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sounds like it's singing a tuneless tune, kinda like one would sing while drying the dishes.

That, or it's doing a "Call Me Maybe" impression in an attempt to go viral on the youtoobs.
posted by not_on_display at 9:17 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


It was probably trying to say something along the lines of, "You jump up and splash everyone for a change."
posted by Slackermagee at 9:22 PM on October 22, 2012


"Turn the page, please."
posted by homunculus at 9:23 PM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sounds like it's singing a tuneless tune, kinda like one would sing while drying the dishes.

Hey, speak for yourself! My dish-drying singing is pitch-perfect and melodious as all fuck.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:29 PM on October 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


Obviously the researchers just needed to provide kazoos to *all* the whales.
posted by smidgen at 9:51 PM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


When my cats make vaguely human noises my assumption is that have issued another edict. I have much more faith in the civility of Belugas. Raffi wouldn't have lied to us!
posted by karmiolz at 9:58 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sounds like the parents in a Peanuts TV-movie.

The whale was forced to endure a lot of television.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:05 PM on October 22, 2012


If he was trying to say anything human at all it was probably just mimicking some sort of introduction speech they give at the enclosure, or maybe a repeated recording about belugas.

I'm perfectly willing to chalk it up to the human brain wanting to hear speech and patterns, but I thought I heard him distinctly say 'beluga', which would only make sense if the above were true.

In a BBC article I read before this was posted, it was stated that one of the divers in the tank kept hearing someone tell him to surface. So he'd go up and ask who was telling him that, for which, of course, there were no answers.

That would also fall in line with mimicking because I'm positive they know at least some basic tricks to have veterinary work done on them.
posted by Malice at 10:15 PM on October 22, 2012


I was hoping this would be about the The Loneliest Whale, finally closer to making a meaningful connection with another living being. :(

...I really need to stop depressing myself by thinking about The Loneliest Whale.
posted by yasaman at 10:59 PM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


To me it sounds like someone trying to talk through their scuba regulator. Makes sense I suppose.
posted by radwolf76 at 10:59 PM on October 22, 2012


Sounds more like singing, to me. Especially the first phrase or 2. Then it sounds rather like Roger Waters doing the megaphone routine at the beginning of "Waiting", from The Wall.
posted by Goofyy at 11:00 PM on October 22, 2012


This is the most depressing thing I've ever read if it's true: all those years trying to talk, trying to be understood...and never getting a reply.

I'm going to weep quietly in a corner now.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:08 PM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Not to be confused with this other lonely whale.
posted by knile at 11:56 PM on October 22, 2012


Sure, why not? Dogs do it.

Cats do it, too -- they don't meow at each other, at least not outside kittenhood. It's a thing they do just for humans, because they love us we carry the sacred parasite.
posted by vorfeed at 12:16 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Remember Hoover the talking seal?
posted by Segundus at 12:54 AM on October 23, 2012 [3 favorites]




Why Can't We Talk To The Animals?

And now I have Rex Harrison speak-singing in my head.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:25 AM on October 23, 2012


Touching.
posted by Miko at 5:13 AM on October 23, 2012


Segundus: "Remember Hoover the talking seal?"

Remarkably, he even says "hey, get over here!" with a recognizable Massachusetts accent.
posted by idiopath at 6:05 AM on October 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


"If a lion could talk, we could not understand him." - Wittgenstein.

It kind of sounds to me like it's humming some cheesy music it's heard over the PA.
posted by carter at 8:08 AM on October 23, 2012


Poor whale had that song stuck in his head his whole damn life.
posted by maryr at 8:51 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The very beginning sounds more like a sort of mocking "hey this is what you humans sound like" thing.

Actually, he also sounds kind of like that talking typewriter from The Electric Company.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:56 AM on October 23, 2012


chambers: The lab reports should still read: Huge Success Epic Win.

FTFY.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:53 AM on October 23, 2012


For the first time, we can know, truly know what a non-human intelligence thinks of humanity, by mimicking our speech patterns. Let's listen:
"DERP-a-DOY, doy-doy-doy! Duh... Yup!"
Man, do they ever have our number...
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:44 AM on October 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


I watched the video in the linked article and at the end of it YouTube showed me some related videos. One of them had Romney delivering some quips. I clicked it out of curiosity. The result was hilarious.
posted by deo rei at 11:23 AM on October 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Cats do it, too -- they don't meow at each other, at least not outside kittenhood. It's a thing they do just for humans, because they love us we carry the sacred parasite.
posted by vorfeed


I think you may really be onto something here, vorfeed.

Cats are notorious for climbing all over the strangers in a group who don't like them while snubbing the ones who do, and I've been wondering whether this could mean that they sense (probably smell) who is infected and who is not, and are drawn to those who are not because that could pass on the parasite, which would help the parasite and, as befits a definitive host, the cat as well.

And in turn, I think they might well be more prone to try to communicate their desires to the infected if they could distinguish them, because the infected are much more likely to be well-disposed toward them-- not that they would know that, of course, but they wouldn't have to for the whole thing to work out.
posted by jamjam at 12:28 PM on October 23, 2012


Cats are notorious for climbing all over the strangers in a group who don't like them while snubbing the ones who do, and I've been wondering whether this could mean that they sense (probably smell) who is infected and who is not, and are drawn to those who are not because that could pass on the parasite, which would help the parasite and, as befits a definitive host, the cat as well.

I thought there was a far more obvious explanation for the "cats head for the person who hates cats" cliche.

Put yourself in the cat's position for a minute. Imagine you walk into a room full of giant creatures ten times your size. Most of them immediately lean down to make weird faces and noises at you, noises you don't understand and facial expressions you can't comprehend. Even more frightening, some start reaching out to try to grab you. But one is just sitting back and being fairly calm and quiet. In that scenario, wouldn't you want to get away from the big noisy gestury giants and want to try to appeal to the quiet and calm one to "hey, tell your buddies they're freaking me out"?

So do cats.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:40 PM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, eye contact is a positive/bonding thing among primates, but it's a threat among cats. Cats head for people who hate cats partly because people who hate cats look toward them and then avert their eyes... which happens to be a polite and welcoming gesture.
posted by vorfeed at 1:14 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I could talk to the animals, talk to the animals
And they could talk to each other
What a boring thing that would be
What a tedious old load of rubbish
--Fred Dagg
posted by Sparx at 2:52 PM on October 23, 2012


Yeah, similarly to De Reo's experience, when I shared this on Google Plus, Google automatically generated a thumbnail of Mitt Romney to accompany it. I don't know exactly what's going on here, but it's kind of hilarious.
posted by lollusc at 4:13 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's an attractive alternative explanation, vorfeed, and can't be ruled out by anything I'm aware of, though it is my experience that cats will come running if I'm walking by their yard, look at them and crouch down as if I'm good for a pet or a scratch.

But people who are making come hither noises of the sort EmpressCallipygos is talking about are essentially imitating the cat's owners, and I'd think they'd find that appealing.

I suppose there's also a greater chance people who'd like the cats to come to them are cat owners scent marked as another cat's territory and as such relatively poor candidates for a visit.
posted by jamjam at 4:53 PM on October 23, 2012


That's an attractive alternative explanation, vorfeed, and can't be ruled out by anything I'm aware of, though it is my experience that cats will come running if I'm walking by their yard, look at them and crouch down as if I'm good for a pet or a scratch.

Certainly, especially since letting them make the first move is also very welcoming! It's the KITTY! KITTY I'M STARING AT YOU AND HEADING RIGHT FOR YOU thing that's the cat-manners equivalent of the guy with the boot on his head in this comic.
posted by vorfeed at 9:40 PM on October 23, 2012




subbes: Oh, man, he was trying to talk to us? And we just carried on gawking? That's genuinely sad. He must have felt like we were ignoring his attempts to connect on a meaningful level.
Lordy, lordy... that's anthropomorphizing on an astounding level.

If crows repeat back words, are they really begging us to limit our CO2 outputs and put bells on housecats?*

Bears in Russian zoos have learned to stand and wave at customers, who will reward this cute behavior with thrown treats. I once heard a mockingbird imitating the sound of an ATM dispensing cash... but I doubt he was practicing for a teller position at PNC Bank.

A linguistically-savant animal is amusing itself by interacting with the smartest animals around. No anthropomorphic "messages" are necessary.

* Seriously, people: bell those cats. Songbirds are under enough pressure.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:56 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


White whale, eh? Maybe he has a message from Ahab.
posted by chavenet at 10:02 AM on October 25, 2012


The truth about the whale's human-like song revealed.
posted by dgaicun at 10:16 AM on October 25, 2012






Watch This Elephant Speak Korean
posted by homunculus at 11:36 AM on November 1, 2012




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