The seal, named Zola, is one of three young seals that scientists at the Scottish Oceans Institute at the University of St. Andrews are teaching to copy human sounds as part of ongoing research into speech disorders.
“Copies were not perfect but given that these are not typical seal sounds it is pretty impressive,” said lead researcher Dr. Amanda Stansbury. “Our study really demonstrates how flexible seal vocalizations are.”
Professor Vincent Janik, director of the institute, said the research provides a better understanding of the evolution of vocal learning.
“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,” said Janik.