Home Science Ancient Dogs that Sing Like Whales Rediscovered in the Wild

Ancient Dogs that Sing Like Whales Rediscovered in the Wild


Wild dogs among those thought to be “the most ancient domestic dogs on earth” have been rediscovered in Papua New Guinea after half a century.

These dogs, dubbed New Guinea Singing Dogs, have a yodeling howl that some think sounds like singing. According to others, their singing is comparable to that of the humpback whale.

“New Guinea Singing Dogs are rare; they’re exotic; they have this beautiful harmonic vocalization that you don’t find anywhere else in nature, so losing that as a species is not a good thing. We don’t want to see this (animal) disappear,” said Elaine Ostrander from the National Institutes of Health.

Ostrander, a co-author of newly-published research on the dogs, says they resemble eight New Guinea Singing Dogs brought to the United States many years ago.

Take a listen to that incredible yodel below:

Feral Dogs with an Ancient Past

Until recently, it was thought the dogs were extinct in the wild, but DNA testing has revealed they live on in the rugged highlands of the island. The breed was first described in 1897.

Researcher James McIntyre, president of the New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation, helped rediscover the dogs in extreme weather and terrain. Residents of Papua, Indonesia, had spotted them in 2016 hiding out in a sanctuary near the Grasberg gold and copper mine. However, some people suspected the dogs were probably local strays that became feral. 

“The locals called them the Highland wild dog,” he said. “The New Guinea Singing Dog was the name developed by Caucasians. Because I didn’t know what they were, I just called them the Highland wild dogs,” said McIntyre.

Ancient Dogs Dating Back 3,500 Years

Then, in 2018, McIntyre obtained DNA from two trapped wild dogs and one dog, which was found deceased. When researchers examined the samples, they concluded the dogs’ DNA belonged to the “ancestral line from which the singing dogs descended.” Thus, the dogs are relatives of Australian dingoes and Asian dogs that humans brought to Oceania around 3,500 years ago. 

One of the researchers who studied the DNA, Heidi G. Parker, told the New York Times:

“For decades, we’ve thought that the New Guinea Singing Dog is extinct in the wild. They are not extinct,” Dr. Parker said. “They actually do still exist in the wild.” 

Today, a few hundred captive singing dogs remain in zoos and as exotic pets. The dogs are descendants of a few wild dogs captured in the 1970s. 

Over the years, they have become inbred, weakening the animals’ genetic line. Now, discovering the wild population means the captive population could be saved. Using modern techniques, the researchers hope to create a stable and true New Guinea Singing Dog population.

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Although it remains unclear, the researchers think the singing dogs could have a common ancestor with breeds known today as the Akita and Shiba Inu. However, the New Guinea Singing Dogs have genomic variants different from all other dogs today.

Excitingly, studying these ancient canines could teach us more about how modern dogs evolved. Interestingly, they have many unique characteristics that set them apart from domestic breeds today.

Notably, a spine-tingling singing voice isn’t the only feature that sets this ancient breed apart. 

“According to the San Diego Zoo, the singing dog’s joints and spine are extremely flexible — it climbs and jump like a cat. The zoo said that sonograms had shown that this dog’s unique wail is similar to the song of the humpback whale,” reported CNN.

You can listen to another captive New Guinea Singing Dog singing its heart out below:

Featured image: Screenshots via YouTube and YouTube