A Seal Learned to Sing the Star Wars Theme

Can a seal sing the iconic Star Wars theme? What about "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"? The answers to these questions are provided in a recently published report from researchers from the Scottish Oceans Institute at the University of St Andrews. As it turns out, it looks like some seals -- specifically trained for it -- can in fact carry entirely unusual tunes.

The study, which was published in the journal Current Biology under the title "Formant Modification through Vocal Production Learning in Gray Seals," looked to explore sound production in gray seals and how it might be used to better understand vocal learning, saw the researchers monitor three gray seals from birth. According to the university's press release, the seals were trained to mimic sounds by changing their formants, which are, as the university describes it, "the parts of human speech sounds that encode most of the information that we convey to each other."

The three seals were then able to follow these patterns to mixed success. One of the gray seals, named Zola, was apparently particularly good at this. You can check out a compilation of the seals making sounds in the YouTube video below, which was uploaded by the University of St Andrews. Zola, it appears, is the only one to sing the songs.

"Copies were not perfect but given that these are not typical seal sounds it is pretty impressive," lead researcher Dr. Amanda Stansbury, who now works at the El Paso Zoo in Texas, said as part of the university's press release. "Our study really demonstrates how flexible seal vocalisations are. Previous studies just provided anecdotal evidence for this."

Here's the actual main theme, for comparison's sake:


Now, granted, "sing" might be a bit of a stretch, but surely the above is more than just pure honking, right? What do you think? Let us know in the comments!