I’ve spent my whole life assuming that the biggest threat to human dominion over animals would come from monkeys who can move robotic arms with their minds — but it appears that the far more dangerous Beluga Rebellion may already be underway. They can already talk like us. Soon they will move onto land, depose us, and rule the Earth in our stead.
Or, perhaps more accurately, they can make a weird noise that may be an attempt to talk like us, and in the last 30 or so years, it doesn’t seem to have gotten them anywhere.
Here’s the story. In 1984, staff at San Diego’s National Marine Mammal Foundation started hearing weird ghost conversations just slightly too quiet to understand. This is probably a relatively common occurrence when your head is frequently under the water, but it happened often enough to be odd. The strangest incident occurred when a diver who was training near the whale enclosure heard someone tell him to get out of the water — but nobody had issued such a command. At least, no person had.
As it turned out, a beluga named NOC, who had lived at NMMF since 1977, had started making sounds that were more like human speech than like whale noises — although, to be honest, more like a demented kazoo than human speech. He didn’t make the sounds to other whales, only to his human handlers.
This is clearly not “talking” in any sense, but the sounds are in a similar range to human speech, with a similar pattern. Belugas are natural mimics, so it’s plausible that NOC was really trying to talk like people, and “vuvuzela solo” was as close as he could get due to cruel beluga biology.
NOC died a few years ago, and he never did manage to learn human speech — at least, not that anyone saw. But if we find ourselves the victims of a bloodless beluga coup, based entirely on their superior oration skills, we’ll know that NOC’s legacy has finally been realized, and also that elections will be way cuter from now on.