These seals are trained to sing the ‘Star Wars’ theme

These seals are trained to sing the ‘Star Wars’ theme


While some officials use marine animals for espionage, these Scottish researchers are teaching gray seals a much more relevant skill — how to sing John Williams’ iconic “Star Wars” theme.

The scientists have been working with three gray seals since birth to study their voices, and found that they can be trained to mimic human sounds.

Professor Vincent Janik, director of the University of St. Andrews’ Scottish Oceans Institute (SOI), believes this work, detailed in the Current Biology, adds to our understanding of how communication is developed, and could inform on speech disorders in humans.

“This study gives us a better understanding of the evolution of vocal learning,” he says, “a skill that is crucial for human language development.”

One of their seals, Zola, really excelled, they say, showing she can hum around 10 notes of the “Star Wars” theme and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. The others were able to accurately vocalize vowel combinations.

“I was amazed how well the seals copied the model sounds we played to them,” writes lead researcher Dr. Amanda Stansbury, who now works at the El Paso Zoo in Texas, in a press release.

“Copies were not perfect but given that these are not typical seal sounds it is pretty impressive.”

Other mammals such as whales, dolphins and elephants are all known for playing copy cat with humans, even though they have very different vocal anatomies, says Janik, who also tells CNN that seals are the only mammals known to “use the same mechanisms [as humans].”

“Finding other mammals that use their vocal tract in the same way as us to modify sounds informs us on how vocal skills are influenced by genetics and learning and can ultimately help to develop new methods to study speech disorders.”

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