Researchers at the University of St. Andrews are teaching grey seals to sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and the Star Wars theme, but it’s not just because they’ve got too much time on their hands.
It turns out that gray seals have a unique ability among non-human mammals to mimic human sounds in the same way that animals like parrots and mockingbirds can. That, combined with their above average intelligence suggests that the sea pups could be great vocal learners. Here’s what Vincent Janik from the Scottish Oceans Institute told Gizmodo about the singing seals:
“The anatomical structures used for producing vocalizations such as the vocal cords, larynx, and mouth cavities are the same for seals and humans. Other vocal learners use different structures. Birds, for example, do not have a larynx but a different structure called a syrinx to produce sounds. Dolphins use muscles in their nasal air passages to produce learned sounds.”
The three seals in the study are named Gandalf, Zola, and Janice. They were captured when they were very young and were allowed to mingle with other seals during the study. When it was complete (After 12 months), the seals were released back into the wild.
By the end of the study, the seals were able to sing up to 10 notes of songs like Twinkle Twinkle, and the Star Wars theme. They were also eventually able to mimic all ” all possible vowel combinations of A, E, I, O U. “Source: Gizmodo