You've Likely Never Heard Seals Quite Like This

Language researchers teach them to mimic 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 21, 2019 1:54 PM CDT

Sure, it's a goofy animal video, but it's Friday and it's in the name of science, so enjoy. Researchers from Scotland's University of St. Andrews trained gray seals to copy the sounds of human words and songs, including "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." It wasn't on a lark: The study gave the researchers a better understanding of the evolution of vocal learning and human language development, per the AP. It also suggested that gray seals could be a new model to study speech disorders since they use their vocal tracts the same way as humans.

The research team's findings were published Thursday in Current Biology, including video footage of the seals. "It takes hundreds of trials to teach the seal what we want it to do, but once they get the idea they can copy a new sound pretty well at the first attempt," researcher Vincent Janik tells New Scientist. (Read more seals stories.)

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