We hope they go indie and avoid the major music labels now that three grey seals that have been trained to copy speech, have also learned the notes from popular music including the Star Wars theme and the nursery rhyme Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
Researchers worked with the seals from birth, training them to copy new sounds by changing their formants. (Formants are emphasized frequency bands in our speech sounds. They are parts of our speech sounds that we modify to encode information.)
It was a step process: The seals were first trained to copy sequences of their own sounds, and then create melodies in their pitch. Human vowel sounds were later presented to the animals, which they then copied.
One seal, named Zola, was particularly good at copying melodies played to her, including up to 10 notes of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
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Vocal learning is crucial for language acquisition but relatively rare in animals
We tested whether gray seals can copy melodies and human formants
Seals were versatile vocal learners copying vowels and peak frequency of melodies
Seals used the same supra-laryngeal structures as humans when copying model sounds
Journal reference: Stansbury, A. & Janik, V. (2019). Formant Modification through Vocal Production Learning in Gray Seals, Current Biology,