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These seals can sing the Star Wars theme, and they’re making a splash with Mark Hamill

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Jun 21, 2019

Move over, John Williams. There’s a new Star Wars troubadour in town, and she’s laying down some serious sounds — the kind that can even force Mark Hamill to tune in.

A trio of trained seals at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews has learned to carry a melody or two, and naturally, one of the first tracks researchers queued up to build their watery repertoire was Williams’ iconic Star Wars theme. As you can see (and hear), it’s not a perfect note-for-note performance. But it’s pretty close, with Zola, the first seal in the video below, nailing the rise and fall of the pitch — as well as holding out the notes in all the right places.

University of St. Andrews on YouTube

When the mellifluous seal-bleated Star Wars refrain wafted its way to Hamill's ears, he was quick to share it with Twitter fans — while giving Williams a splashy shout-out:

As entertaining as it is to hear Zola, Gandalf, and Janice (as these three grey seal crooners are named) bark out Star Wars music and "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," there’s an academic angle to the whole experiment. St. Andrews biologists were interested in exploring how seals use their distinctive vocal abilities, and trained the animals to see how great a role memory might play in shaping the sounds they make.

Zola in particular made a splash with the research team, demonstrating the ability, after much training, to recall as many as 10 notes at once. “Copies were not perfect but given that these are not typical seal sounds it is pretty impressive,” wrote team leader Amanda Stansberry. “Our study really demonstrates how flexible seal vocalizations are. Previous studies just provided anecdotal evidence for this.”

We don’t know if these seals got to watch any actual Star Wars footage as part of their vocal training, but we do know that they’ll be carrying their newly discovered musical chops back to their seal buddies in the wild. Per the study’s ethical guidelines, all three animals were kept for the study for one year, and have since been released back into the wild — where we’re hoping they take what they learned about the galaxy far, far away and start their own Star Wars seal-singin’ colony.

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