Japanese whale whisperer teaches beluga to "talk"

Tue Sep 16, 2008 5:33am EDT
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By Takanori Isshiki

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - A Japanese researcher says he has taught a beluga whale to "talk" by using sounds to identify three different objects, offering hope that humans may one day be able to hold conversations with sea mammals.

Nack, a whale at the Kamogawa Sea World marine park near Tokyo, emits a short, high-pitched sound when he sees a swimming fin, a long, high-pitched sound when he sees goggles and a short, low-pitched sound when he sees a bucket.

He correctly chooses the right object when the three sounds are played back to him.

Tokai University professor Tsukasa Murayama started training Nack after he became dissatisfied with hand-signals currently used to communicate with dolphins and whales.

"I have always wanted to talk to whales, and as I thought more and more about it, I realized that they already communicated through sound," he told Reuters.

"That is why I thought I could train them to name certain items using sounds they already make."

Murayama said he hoped one day to train whales to express their feelings in a way that humans could understand.

"It would be great if they would be able to tell us not only of their likes and dislikes but also their desires, like whether they are hungry or if their backs are itchy. So the next step would be to teach them a wider range of vocabulary," he added.   Continued...

<p>Yulka, a beluga whale, swims at the Oceanografic in Valencia August 11, 2006. REUTERS/Heino Kalis</p>