We have known for decades (Payne and McVay, 1971) that cetaceans communicate with each other. A variety of languages and dialects have been discovered, graphed and analyzed. Researchers have surmised what these vocalizations mean. They have also confirmed that these sounds are separate from the sounds that odontocetes (toothed whales) make to hunt and navigate. A recently published paper in Current Biology posits that at least one species, the beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) has the ability to mimic human sounds. Here are links to a couple of articles that have been written: Boston Globe, and Huffington Post.
Belugas already have the distinction of having the most demonstrative face in the whale world and are one of the few species to not have any of its neck vertebrae fused together. Now they appear to be able to mimic human language. Dory and Marlin (from Finding Nemo) would be proud.
Beluga exhaling bubbles at surface. Photo by J.C. George, AK Dept of Wildlife Management.
In keeping with this unintentional, but serendipitous, blog theme of sensory perception in marine creatures (My, What Big Eyes You Have – March 16 and Whale Sense of Smell- Feb 27), I’d like to share news of a recent study from the University of Hawaii. A specially trained false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) worked with researchers Dr. Paul Nachtigall and Ph.D. candidate Laura Kloepper to demonstrate the amount of detail these animals discern from signals sent and received via echolocation. The fact that odontocetes use echolocation for hunting and navigating is old news. This research adds to body of knowledge regarding the level of accuracy that can be processed from the sound waves received via their semi-hollow, oil filled mandibles . This BBC report, based on the paper published in the Journal of Experimental Biology explains the experiment, the results and provides a video clip of this beautiful animal in action.