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Whale learns same language as dolphins, research finds

After two months the beluga whale learned to speak to its dolphin neighbours

Saturday 04 November 2017 16:45 GMT
The whale took two months to learn to speak to dolphins
The whale took two months to learn to speak to dolphins (Getty Images)

A whale that was living close to a pod of bottlenose dolphins has learnt to speak their language, according to new research.

Two months after the beluga whale was introduced into a new facility with the dolphins, scientists found that it began to imitate their whistles.

The four-year-old whale was moved in 2013 to live in the Koktebel dolphinarium in Crimea, with details of the discovery reported in science journal Animal Cognition.

And as the whale learned to communicate in the dolphins’ language, scientists found that the whale began losing its own.

“Two months after the beluga’s introduction into a new facility, we found that it began to imitate whistles of the dolphins, whereas one type of its own calls seemed to disappear,” said researcher Elena Panaova, of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.

She added: "While the imitations of dolphin whistles were regularly detected among the beluga's vocalisations, we found only one case in which the dolphins produced short calls that resembled those of the beluga.”

The researchers have currently recorded more than 90 hours of audio of the whale communicating like the dolphins.

In general, dolphins communicate using two kinds of sounds, “whistles” and “clicks”. Clicks are used to sense their surroundings through echolocation, while they use whistles to communicate with other members of their specie, which is what the whale was mimicking.

Beluga whales are highly intelligent and have been known to imitate people. In 2012 a beluga began speaking with similarities to human speech patterns, indicating that the whale was trying to talk to his human captors.

However, researchers argue this case is more pioneering because the whale has given up speaking ‘beluga’ to order to adapt with the dolphins.

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