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These Seals are Singing for Science

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As you may have noticed, a number of bird species have proven capable of mimicking snippets of sound they overhear, be it a melody, the wail of an ambulance or a dirty phrase taught to them by some drunk fella at a party. But here's the thing: most mammals suck at it. Not so seals. They're able to reproduce the sounds they hear, even if they're outside of their regular vocal range. In this video, these seals, who were schooled by scientists from the University of St. Andrews, are captured barking out the Star Wars theme song and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. It's adorable! It's also a part of some pretty important research that could eventually lead to a greater under standing of speech disorders in humans. This sort of stuff's beyond me, but Gizmodo's George Dvorsky does a damn fine job of breaking down why the work has the potential to be so important. From Gizmodo: “First, knowing how seals use sounds is important to assess how they are affected by noise created by human activities such as shipping or marine construction,” he explained. “This, in turn, will help us to manage wild populations more carefully. Second, studying how vocal learning works in seals and how it might be naturally impaired in some individuals can help to understand vocal development and its limitations in other mammalian learners that use similar structures, such as humans.” It's a lengthy story, but it's fascinating stuff--if you've got a few minutes to kill, taking a read of it is definitely worth your time. Read the rest

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