One rambunctious white whale youngster has been caught on tape making fun of our species.
Some scientific discoveries come from years of research, millions of dollars in federal grants, and armies of unpaid students clamoring after a doctorate. Others stem from a poignant moment of eureka, like Newton and his apple, Tesla and his walking stick, and more recently, a diver at the National Marine Mammal Foundation in California whose words of discovery will soon join the annuls of history: “Who told me to get out of the pool?”
After what was likely a quick round of apathetic shrugging and “wasn’t me”ing, Foundation research scientists soon pinpointed the actual culprit, a nine-year-old beluga whale named NOC. Now, it’s unlikely that NOC actually had the nerve to tell the man to get the hell out of his tank–though you never know–but what is certain is that the creature was producing strange sounds, multiple octaves below normal. After a little encouragement and a lot of water-proof recording devices, the team was able to catch more of these outbursts on tape, and confirmed that NOC was, in fact, mimicking human pitch and vocal patterns. You can hear the impersonation in the video above.
Now, beluga whales have widely been regarded as the “canaries of the sea,” and while it may come as a surprise to those an optometrist appointment or two behind, it’s not because of their looks. Belugas have a long history of making interesting chirps and tweets, but aside from mere anecdotal evidence, this is the first time anyone has been able to catch one specifically trying to sound human.
Making things even more interesting is how belugas produce these noises – apparently, it’s not easy. Reaching the low-frequency tones of those weird, two-legged fish dispensers always circling his tank required NOC to rapidly change the pressure in his nasal cavity, and overinflate the vestibular sac in his blowhole. Yikes.
While the weight of this discovery probably chalks up to little more than proof that one more member of the animal kingdom is going out of its way to make fun of us, it’s pretty interesting nonetheless. Now if we could just learn to under-inflate the vestibular sac in our own blowholes, we could throw a zinger or two back their way, the bullies.