Big Blue Diving - Koh Tao - Thailand - The Beluga Whale That Spoke
Monday, 08 October 2018 15:49

The Beluga Whale That Spoke Featured

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When we think about the loudest creatures on the planet, most minds will go to the trumpet of an elephant, the howl of a wolf or the screech of a woman scorned. In reality, the creatures that make the loudest noises by far are the whales that inhabit our oceans all around the world: the loudest apparently being the sperm whale, which can raise its voice to a crazy 230 decibels underwater – it doesn’t sound that impressive until you consider a 10-ton bomb gives off 210 decibels and a space shuttle launch generates around 170 decibels of noise!

 

So what the hell are these gobby gargantuans going on about anyway?

 

We know that whales make noise to communicate, locate and tell others about food sources, and to find each other. The tend to speak in clicks, whistles and pulsed calls which can travel hundreds of miles underwater, and it’s actually thought the sperm whales’ calls can reach half way around the world…although it would take a few hours.  One of the most talkative whales out there is the beluga, which is where this curious tale begins…

  

The year is 1984, and here I should insert some inane Big Brother pun but I’ve leave that to you lot. The National Marine Mammal Foundation were studying and training dolphins and whales for ‘Cold Ops’ (otherwise called top secret naval stuff) and had a number of belugas undergoing constant training. It was during a normal session when researchers reported hearing what sounded like a muffled conversation, which they described as sounding like someone talking loudly in an adjacent room. It was then that one of the divers (and co-founder of the foundation), Sam Ridgeway, climbed out of the whale enclosure and asked his colleagues ‘Who told me to get out?’

Noc’ was a beluga whale that had been living in the research centre for 7 years, and was very familiar with trainers and the language they used every day with him. It appears that unbeknownst to the staff at the foundation Noc had been working on communicating with his human friends, and had managed to produce a pretty damn good impression of them too, which you can hear for yourself right here:

 

https://www.cell.com/cms/attachment/2021739480/2041549424/mmc2.mp3

 

Pretty remarkable eh? It’s like he’s been listening to them and decided that the English language is simply humans going ‘duh duh duh, doo doo doo’ over and over again, suspiciously like the Swedish language as a matter of fact.

 

To teach him a lesson in showing off and to remind him just who was the boss around there, the researchers immediately inserted tubes into his nasal cavity to try and find out just how he’d managed to produce this kazoo-like sound and discovered he was manipulating pressure in his nasal tract which caused this bizarre noise. The reason why remains a mystery, though Michelle Jeffries, one of Noc’s early trainers, described in an interview:

 “He was very easy-going. He wanted people’s attention. He wanted you to stay around and interact with him and rub him. He didn’t try to bullshit you like some of the dolphins did”

We should take a moment to enjoy that incredible statement about the bullshit from dolphins.

Michelle continued, presumably after taking out her obvious frustrations by kicking a dolphin and eating a tin of cheap tuna:

“He was just glad for your time, and he was very patient. Plus being the younger one, he was a little bit more reactive, eager. Noc was the kid who was willing to try. I think that was part of the thing behind him mimicking speech. He liked watching people. He liked being around people…He wanted to make a connection.”

Noc spoke in this way both underwater and above, responded to his trainers or would spontaneously start chatting away but only if there was a human present or he was alone – strangely he would never talk in this was around the other whales.

So what happened to this genius beluga whale, the first animal (or maybe second after that dog that says ‘sausages’?) to manage a passable attempt at the English language?

 

Dead.

 

 

 

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