Grey seals can copy human speech and sing, according to British study


ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND (CBS NEWSPATH) – Grey seals can copy human speech and songs using the same sound production mechanisms as humans, according new research by the University of St Andrews.

The study, which was published this week in the journal Current Biology, found that seals could copy speech the way humans communicate to each other. The seals were trained to copy new sounds by changing their formats.

One seal, named Zola, was good at copying melodies that were played to her. Zola was able to copy 10 notes of songs such as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and other popular themes.

Researchers Dr. Amanda Stansbury and professor Vincent Janik, of the Scottish Oceans Institute, worked with three young grey seals and monitored them from birth to see what sounds they could make naturally.

Two other seals that were taught combinations of human vowel sounds and copied them as well.

Lead researcher Stansbury, who works at El Paso Zoo in Texas, was amazed how well the seals copied the model sounds they played to them.

“This study gives us a better understanding of the evolution of vocal learning, a skill that is crucial for human language development”, said Janik, director of the SOI at the University of St. Andrews.

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