“The similarities we find are really striking,” said Coen Elemans, a voice researcher at the University of Southern Denmark who co-authored the study. “This is the first evidence of widespread registry use in any animal other than humans.”
Among Americans, vocal fry can be divisive. Some find the low, guttural voice infuriating. Others warn that the angry tone makes potential employees less employable. Radio stations get complaints about hosts who end their sentences with the scratchy voice.
But the ranks of vocal suitors are growing, especially among younger women. Many who speak with a squeak see criticism of vocal fry as sexist social policing of women’s voices. And many celebrities today — including Kardashian, Johansson and Perry — often speak in the rough register, according to Elemans.
Among cetaceans, the screeching voice is crucial to the survival of the massive mammals.
How whales use their ‘voice’
Elemans and his colleagues found that toothed whales use the normal and falsetto registers to communicate with each other. They reserve the vocal fry register for navigation.
Noisy water forces dolphins to “yell” to each other
Able to dive more than a kilometer underwater, many of these whales hunt in almost complete darkness. The animals use sound to find their way underwater, sending out powerful pulses and listening to the echo to discover their meal.
Toothed whales rely on vocal fry to make their echolocation clicks, according to the study. Under the sea, air is precious – and whales probably evolved to use the lower register for echolocation since it uses air most efficiently.
Vokalyngel, according to Elemans, “has definitely brought toothed whales very far.”
His team series of experiments showed that whales produce their wide repertoire of sounds with the same organ – the vocal cords in the nose, which vibrate much like a larynx does in humans. To reach that conclusion, his team filmed the tissue movements of trained bottlenose dolphins and porpoises with a high-speed camera, and also filmed wild whales with a small audio recording.
These whales are on the brink. Now comes climate change — and wind power.
“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 piece on whale vocalization in the same issue of Science.
He added: “The finding is quite unexpected and startling.”