Beluga Whales Can Mimic Human Speech, Have Told Divers To Surface

By | August 10, 2020

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Parents accompany children to watch beluga performance in China. (Costfoto/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

One of the most recognizable members of the whale family, the beluga is distinguishable by its white color, bulbous head, and perpetual smile, but there is much more to these remarkable creatures than their outward appearance. The beluga whale has some amazing abilities, including the capacity for altruism and even mimicking human speech.

A Cold Water Whale

Beluga whales are cold water inhabitants who make their home in the frigid depths of the Arctic. They're most commonly seen in the waters off Alaska, Greenland, Canada, and northern Russia; in fact, the word "beluga" is Russian for "white." They're a close cousin of the narwhal, another cold water, meme-able whale.

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Belugas are friendly and talkative. (Ubergirl/Wikimedia Commons)

A Talkative Whale

Beluga whales are the most vocal of all species of whales, nicknamed the "sea canary" because of its extraordinary ability to mimic other sounds. Interestingly, unlike other mammals, beluga whales don’t have vocal cords. Instead, they push air through the nasal sacs near their blowholes, and the resulting collection of clicks, whistles, trills, and other noises allows them to navigate the high seas by echolocation.

Their lack of vocal cords makes it even more impressive that some beluga whales in captivity have been observed to copy the speech patterns of their human caretakers. Some people even claim that belugas can produce a cry like a human child. In the wild, they may also imitate the sea birds they come in contact with. Captive beluga whales are often housed and exhibited with other marine animals, such as dolphins, and several studies have shown that, over time, beluga whales will alter their vocalizations to mimic those of their dolphin roommates. It is believed that belugas teach themselves how to communicate with dolphins and other animals in their own language, making belugas a multilingual species.