Typically we don’t think of seals as musically gifted creatures, but scientists at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland have managed to train a choir of three seals, as seen in this latest video.
Granted, the trio of gray seals only have two songs memorized under their belt, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and the theme to “Star Wars.” However, this is a far cry from the occasional bark we expect to hear from this sea creature. Yes, all in the name of science!
Singing With A Purpose
The purpose of the study was to see if animals can be successful at vocal learning. This skill is vital for humans in learning language, but rarely seen in animals. Published in the scientific journal Current Biology, the study aimed to see if seals could copy human formants and melodies, which are needed for humans to process information.
As you can imagine, learning human languages is not native to seals. For this reason, the animals were first trained to mimic their own sounds and the sounds of human vowels.
While this might seem like a simple task, the reality of it according to the researchers was quite the opposite. It took “hundreds of trials to teach the seal what we want it to do.”
After many trials and errors, the sea creatures eventually got used to the training and were able to copy new sounds within only a few attempts.
Upon watching the video, you might not be so impressed by the way the seal Zola barks her way through the two songs. However, the researchers were extremely impressed given these sounds are not typical of their species, proving their vocalization is apt for learning.
The Next Steps For The Seals
While their ability to make human sounds is proven, the next step is to see if these creatures understand language. This would require further investigation with the animals labeling different objects, vocally.
This might seem silly research to the average human, but this investigation is useful because seals and humans share the same neural and anatomical structures. Meaning, the research in vocal learning on seals can help better understand human speech disorders and learning.
Photos: Unsplash and Pixabay.