So, like, do you know what Kim Kardashian and dolphins have in common? Get ready to, like, be surprised

Dolphins talk like Kim Kardashian when they are hunting, according to a new study. Picture: Andrea Izzotti via Getty Images Pro

Dolphins talk like Kim Kardashian when they are hunting, according to a new study. Picture: Andrea Izzotti via Getty Images Pro

Published Mar 6, 2023


Dolphins talk like Kim Kardashian when they are hunting. Yes, you read that right. New research has found that intelligent aquatic mammals use “vocal fry”, a sort of low, gravelly sound, to help them find, track and catch their prey.

In humans, the speech technique produces the lowest sounds by elongating syllables. This register is also used by singer Katy Perry and actress Scarlett Johansson. The drawl is common in California and has become known across the world due to the US cultural influences.

Professor Coen Elemans, a voice scientist and one of the lead researchers of the study, from the University of Southern Denmark, said: “Vocal fry is a normal voice register that is often used in American English. Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry and Scarlett Johansson are well-known people using this register.”

According to the paper, which was published last Thursday, the group of animals which use the frequency include sperm whales, orcas, dolphins and porpoises. The study in the journal Science found that the cetaceans, like people, have at least three vocal registers, A normal voice, a falsetto and that creaky fry.

“The similarities we find are really striking,” said Elemans. “This is the first evidence of broad register use in any animal, besides humans.”

According to “The Washington Post”, the vocal fry can be divisive among Americans. Some find the low, guttural voice to be grating while others warn the raspy tone makes prospective employees less hireable. Radio stations get complaints about hosts who end their sentences with a scratchy voice.

But the ranks of vocal fry are growing, particularly among younger women. Many who speak with a creak view criticism of vocal fry as sexist social policing of women’s voices. And plenty of celebrities today — including Kardashian, Johansson and Perry — often talk in that gritty register, says Elemans.

Among whales, the creaky voice is critical to the massive mammals’ survival.

Elemans and his colleagues found that toothed whales used the normal and falsetto registers to communicate with each other. They reserve the vocal fry register for navigation.

Able to dive more than a mile underwater, many of the whales hunt in nearly complete darkness. The animals use sound to find their way underwater, sending out powerful pulses and listening to the echo to spot their meal.

Toothed whales rely on vocal fry to make their echolocation clicks, according to the study.

Under the sea, the air is precious and whales likely evolved to use the lower register for echolocation since it uses air the most efficiently.

Vocal fry, says Elemans, “has definitely brought toothed whales very far”.

His team’s series of experiments showed that whales produce their wide repertoire of sounds with the same organ, the phonic lips in their nose, which vibrate much as a larynx does in humans.

To reach that conclusion, his team filmed tissue motion on trained bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises with a high-speed camera, and also taped wild whales with small sound-recording tags.

“They show, to some extent, that the physical mechanism is the same as the one we use,” said Andrea Ravignani, a comparative bioacoustician at Aarhus University in Denmark and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands. He wrote an opinion article on whale vocalisation in the same issue of Science.

“The finding is quite unexpected and mind-blowing.”

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