Grey seals mimic human speech and music

Grey seals have the ability to copy speech and songs using the same production mechanism as humans, researchers at Scotland's University of St. Andrews have found.

SCOTLAND, UK (REUTERS) - If it sounds like this grey seal is singing 'Twinkle twinkle, little star'...that is because it is.

Researchers at Scotland's University of St. Andrews have found the marine mammals have the ability to mimic speech and songs using the same production mechanism as humans.

The three seals - Zola, Gandalf and Janice - were first trained to imitate common seal sounds.

Then the pitch and tone were slowly shifted to replicate human-like speech.

Those behind the study hope it could be used as a new model to study speech disorders by providing what they call a "better understanding of the evolution of vocal learning."

Using seals as a test subject overcomes the serious ethical issues of studying humans.

You cannot isolate a newborn from birth and control their aural environment.

But seal pups are naturally separated from their mother after two or three weeks.

The researchers told Reuters the study could help identify which sounds help slower learners to develop and use that as a blueprint for working with humans.