GREY seals can form words and sing like humans, including the Star Wars theme.
Scientists got three of them to bark the right notes in the right order.
2 Researchers were taken aback at how well the seals copied human sounds, and hope it will make waves in research around speech disorders.Credit: PA:Press Association
And one named Zola learned to belt out a near-perfect take of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
The University of St Andrews researchers worked with the bob of seals from birth, teaching them broad sounds, then the tune and finally human vowels.
Dr Amanda Stansbury, lead researcher, said: “It demonstrates how flexible seal vocalisations are. I was amazed how well the seals copied the model sounds we played to them.
“Copies were not perfect but given that these are not typical seal sounds it is pretty impressive.”
The researchers worked with three grey seals from birth, training them to copy new sounds by changing their formants.
A seal called Hoover was documented copying human speech – including phrases like “how are you?” – at the New England aquarium in Boston, Massachusetts in the 1980s.
However, this does not necessarily mean that the mammals could learn to talk like humans.
The experts hope further seal research could help people with speech disorders and slow learners.
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Prof Vincent Janik said: “They have the skills to produce human language. Whether they can make sense of it is the next question.”
“Since seals use the same neural and anatomical structures as humans to produce these sounds, they provide a good model system in which to study how speech sounds are learned.”
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