Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How to teach a whale to talk

Scientists in Japan have given a beluga whale a vocabulary of three words, the first time a marine creature has been able to link a sound to an object and then repeat the sound as a 'word'.

Nack, a 23-year-old beluga whale at the Kamogawa Sea World aquarium in Chiba Prefecture, has been taught to make different noises for a bucket, diving goggles and a pair of diving fins, said Takashi Murayama, a professor at Tokai University who has been training the creature for the last five years.

"Beluga whales are very intelligent, friendly and they enjoy being trained in this way," he said.

"Right now Nack only knows three words, but we are working on the whale recognising different people and giving them a sound as well.

"After that, we want to teach it to express likes and dislikes, something that is interesting instead of boring, and be able to say if something is painful," he said.

Nack gives off short, high-pitched sounds to identify the diving fins, a long, higher-pitched note for the goggles and a short, lower tone for the bucket.

When the sounds are played back into the water, the whale is able to understand the noise and identify the object.

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