Dory is one special blue tang. Despite her short-term memory loss, she was able to assist Marlin in his quest to find his son in Finding Nemo, putting to use a number of skills she had somehow acquired in spite of her disability. One of these skills that she puts on display is that she knows how to speak whale... well, sort of. In the film, the whale she was trying to talk to didn't seem to understand what she was saying, but the whale language is expected to make a comeback in Finding Dory . But do whales really have a language, and if they do, is it possible to speak it?
In Finding Nemo, the whale language spoken by Dory was just English with the words elongated to mimic whale sounds. Finding Dory adds two new characters who apparently speak whale as well: The beluga whale, Bailey (Ty Burrell), and the whale shark, Destiny (Kaitlin Olson). Disney even promoted June 11, 2016 as "Speak Like a Whale Day", with people being encouraged to do so on social media and with events taking place at Disney Parks & Resorts. And it appears the film will be incorporating the same type of whale speak as seen in Finding Nemo, judging by this promotional video featuring Burrell and Olson.
In real life, whales don't share a common language. In fact, science indicates that different societies of whales actually have their own separate dialects; even among the same species. In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, sperm whales in the Galapagos Islands were found to share the same vocalizations as others in their social group, but separate from other nearby groups of sperm whales. This indicates that these different communities of sperm whales all speak a different dialect, understandable only to others in their specific group.
Perhaps the best-known examples of a whale language are the songs sung by humpback whales. A 2006 study published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America uncovered that the songs of humpbacks use syntax and repeat phrases over the course of their songs, apparently conveying information while doing so. The songs don't quite meet the criteria to be classified officially as a language, but humpbacks are the only animals other than humans to be known to communicate via a hierarchical structure.
Although humans haven't quite yet figured out how to speak whale, at least one whale figured out how to speak human. A beluga named NOC managed to mimic the sound of human conversation just by overhearing people talk. The whale, who lived in captivity, did so on his own initially, and it was discovered by a diver who heard someone yelling, "Out, out, out!" while he was underwater. When he returned to the surface and found that no one had told him to get out, he realized that NOC was the culprit. You can listen to some recordings of NOC's spontaneous vocalizations below.
So, just like Dory, you're probably not going to be very successful if you try to talk to a whale. But if you're lucky, then someday a whale might just talk to you.
Images: Walt Disney/Pixar