TODAY   |  October 27, 2012

Whale tried to ‘speak’ in human voice

A team of marine biologists say they may have evidence of a talking whale. Noc, a white whale, was studied for three decades and experts say he was definitely different from other whales they’ve studied. NBC’s Mara Schiavocampo reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> here's an interesting question. can whales talk? a team of marine biologists in san diego are convinced that a beluga whale gave it a try.

>> reporter: these sounds may not seem clear to a lot of people, but to some marine biologists , what you're hearing is a whale mimicking the human voice . the star of this research project was a beautiful white whale named nosi, the youngest of three white whales collected in churchill, manitoba, canada, in 1977 when he was about nine years old and later flown no the national mammal foundation in san diego for further study. sam ridgeway is the president of the national marine mammal foundation and led the study. he and his team first began to notice human-like sounds in the dolphin and whale enclosure back in 1984 . sounds they soon figured out had come from nosi.

>> he was the only one that did it, to lower the pitch of his voice quite drastically. it was my impression and that of just about everybody that heard it that he was trying to imitate the human voice .

>>> rid .

>> reporter: ridgeway and his team built a special underwater platform to capture voices coming from nosi.

>> they can claim that nosi was making a sound that was very unlike his own normal whale sounds and unlike that of other whales and he was going to great effort to do this.

>> reporter: their findings reveal a rhythm similar to human speech , frequencies that closer to that of human voice , several octaves lower than typical whale sounds. in the 1973 movie " day of the dolphin ," george c. scott teaches a pair of dolphins to speak and understand english. but while some animals and mammals may sound like they're communicating with us, ridgeway says we may never know for sure if nosi the whale actually understood what he was saying.

>> we didn't think that a whale knew what he was saying. and now we may have been wrong about that.