Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Message and Delivery: Research

Create a body of research in response to a story, issue or theme found in the national press , Tuesday 23rd October.

I found a news article in the Metro, (below)
(scan in paper)

A young Beluga whale spent four years apparently trying to speak English recently, according to scientists in California. The cetacean's enunciation was apparently clear enough that it was actually discovered when the creature ordered a startled diver to get out of the water.

“The whale’s vocalizations often sounded as if two people were conversing in the distance,” says Dr Sam Ridgway, President of the National Marine Mammal Foundation. “These ‘conversations’ were heard several times before the whale was eventually identified as the source. In fact, we discovered it when a diver mistook the whale for a human voice giving him underwater directions.”
The whale in question was a young white beluga named "NOC", resident at the Foundation. According to an NMMF statement:
As soon as the whale was identified as the source, NMMF scientists recorded his speech-like episodes both in air and underwater, studying the physiology behind his ability to mimic. It’s believed that the animals close association with humans played a role in how often he employed his ‘human’ voice, as well as in its quality. Researchers believe NOC’s sonic behavior is an example of vocal learning by a white whale. After about four years, NOC’s speech-like behavior subsided.
“When NOC matured, we no longer heard speech-like sounds, but he did remain quite vocal,” Ridgway says.
The doc and colleagues from California uni and the US Navy's marine-mammal units (which are mainly staffed by dolphins) have published a paper in the journal Current Biology on the amazing speech-like efforts of the while whale, which you can also sample in the vid above.
If you believe in American literary tradition - perhaps based on a real animal - this is not the first white whale to bring a message to humanity: but it would seem that NOC's message is an altogether cheerier one.

The whale who learned to talk to the man-imals: Noc' could imitate a human's voice and used an underwater microphone to make contact with scientists

  • Whale was able to produce distinctly human sounds, fooling divers
  • Researchers now believe the unique animal may have been trying to make contact with humans

PUBLISHED: 17:00, 22 October 2012 | UPDATED: 08:36, 23 October 2012
A white whale which learnt to imitate the voices of humans may have been trying to make contact, scientists believe.
The male named Noc had a distinctly human-like voice, much to the surprise of scientists who previously thought whales typically produce sounds in a manner that is wholly different from humans.
Noc died five years ago after 30 years of living amongst dolphins and other white whales and being in contact with humans at the National Marine Mammal Foundation based in San Diego in California.
Scroll down to hear the whale
NOC the white whale approaches a diver underwater. The whale may have begun speech-like sounds after hearing divers using underwater communications equipment, researchers believe
NOC with an underwater microphone which the team used to make recordings along with microphones on the surface

However, the incredible recordings of the whale were revealed for the first time as the team published their findings.

Sam Ridgway, who led the study, said: 'Our observations suggest that the whale had to modify its vocal mechanics in order to make the speech-like sounds. 
'Such obvious effort suggests motivation for contact.'
Mr Ridgway and his colleagues first began to notice some unusual sounds in the vicinity of the whale and dolphin enclosure which was described a sounding as though two people were conversing in the distance in 1984.
The sounds were traced back to Noc after a diver surfaced from the whale enclosure to ask his colleagues an odd question 'Who told me to get out?'
Although there has been other anecdotal reports of whales sounding like humans before, in this case Ridgway’s team wanted to capture some real evidence by recording Noc over the years.
The team built a special underwater listening platform to try and hear more 'voices'.
The researchers analysed the vocal passages of a white while to discover how NOC made the unique noises

The researchers constructed a special 'listening post' so they could hear the whales clearly
It revealed a rhythm similar to human speech and fundamental frequencies several octaves lower than typical whale sounds, much closer to that of the human voice.
Mr Ridgway said: 'Whale voice prints were similar to human voice and unlike the whale’s usual sounds. 
'The sounds we heard were clearly an example of vocal learning by the white whale.'
He said it was all the more remarkable because whales make sounds via their nasal tract, not in the larynx as humans do.
To make those human-like sounds, Noc had to vary the pressure in his nasal tract while making other muscular adjustments and inflating the vestibular sac in his blowhole. 
In other words, they say, it wasn’t easy.
The study 'Spontaneous human speech mimicry by a cetacean' are published in the latest issue of Current Biology.
'Our observations of human voice mimicry began in May 1984 when a male white whale about 9 years of age at our facility in San Diego Bay spontaneously began to make such speechlike sounds,' the researchers say.
The whale called 'NOC' was the youngest of three that had been collected at  Churchill, Manitoba, Canada in August of 1977.  
At times, the speech-like sounds were heard from a distance when no humans were nearby, however most episodes were observed when humans were nearby on the surface or underwater.  
NOC the white whale that spontaneously began to imitate human speech. The other whale, an older female, never made such speech like sounds
Speech-like sounds were never observed in the two older whales that lived with him and they were not heard from NOC when he was interacting with other whales.  
Observations of white whales in our care indicate that they are very vocal animals consistent with the many observations of these 'sea canaries' in the wild. 
Sadly, after 30 years at the National Marine Mammal Foundation, NOC passed away five years ago. 

But the sound of his voice lives on.
Noc, the white whale researchers believe developed a human-like voice in order to try and make contact
White whales have previously bonded with humans - here one blows heart-shaped bubbles in the water in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province

Marine Mammals Good Imitators
Why a marine mammal would imitate human voices is unclear, though the creatures' human-mimicking speech may be a side effect of their ability to imitate each other, Tyack suggested. For instance, dolphins sometimes copy each other's signature whistles, and humpback whales learn songs from each other.
It's unlikely, he added, that NOC or Hoover understood the sounds they made.
"The only strong evidence for [understanding words] in any imitating animal wasAlex, the African gray parrot," said Tyack.
By training NOC to accept a small device into his nasal passages—the whale equivalent of the human windpipe—Ridgway and his team discovered that the beluga whale made these unusual sounds by inflating air sacs to a much higher pressure than during normal vocalizations.
This explained why NOC's head visibly bulged when he "talked."
"The human voice," Ridgway said, "appears to be very difficult for a cetacean to mimic."


I firstly began to look at speech as the article is about contact and language. I wanted to see how people had captured the essence of speech.

Drawings About Talking

Speech bubbles are graphic convention used most commonly in comics, cartoons or illustrations. Instead of putting words into it to represent speech or thoughts of a character, what if the speech bubble itself has its own expression and characteristic? In this series of illustrations I wanted to explore the possibilities of telling a story/ message by speech bubbles graphically, without words or as least words as possible.
Personal project of Tang Yau Hoong



Breakfast Talk 

Food Talk

Music Talk

Talk Trash

Dirty Talk
Boys Talk

Girls Talk


Long Story Short

Obama's Speech

The aim of this project is to bring awareness about the absence of freedom of speech in Iran through the vehicles of poetry and calligraphy. As Iranian youth strive to express themselves freely and boldly, they’ve broken the boundaries of symbolic language and wish to communicate with the world clearly and openly. My project is an expression on this endeavor, through the use of a poem about freedom of expression by Ahmad Shamlu, a beloved Persian poet.

Contact, 1997,  Might&Wonder


I then looked into how people had portrayed whales in graphic design, this was to give me an idea on how I could maybe portray Noc the whale from my article.

Human speech rhythms

The articles above also mention human speech rhythms/ frequencies and so I thought I would look at how they capture these patterns on a graph and it would give me an idea of lines.

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