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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Preliminary study of discrimination of human vocal commands in walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens)


Walruses seem to use various acoustic signals in social context. So, the auditory faculty is seems to be important for walruses. Can walruses understand another animals' vocal information using auditory sense? This study tested whether a male walrus could discriminate human vocal words and perform different actions corresponding to each one under various conditions. The subject, a male walrus ( Odobenus rosmarus ) named Pou, was set on the ground, and the experimenter spoke one of the ten words to the subject under the following conditions; (1) The experimenter stood close to the subject and spoke each vocal stimulus wearing a black cloak and goggles so that the experimenter's eye and body movements would not influence the subject's behavior, (2) A wooden board was placed between the experimenter and the subject so that the subject could not see the experimenter, (3) A wooden board was placed between the experimenter and the subject so that the subject could not to see the experimenter, and the experimenter uttered each vocal stimulus through an audio speaker. Under each condition, when the subject performed the correct action corresponding to the vocal stimulus, he was rewarded with a piece of fish. As a result, the subject responded correctly to almost all the human vocal stimuli in every condition, including when the speaker was not visible. This means that he was indeed responding to the vocal words and not the experimenter's cues. This study demonstrated that walruses can hear and identify human vocal words using their auditory sense and can form correspondence between vocal words and their meanings.

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