Killer Whales Can Imitate Human Speech, Study Finds

Wikie  a 16-year-old female orca in a French marine theme park is able to copy words such as ‘hello’ ‘bye bye’ and ‘Amy’ as well as count to three. The sounds emerge as parrot-like squawks shrill whistles or raspberries but most

Human words comprised "ah ah", "hello", "bye bye", "Amy", "one two" and "one two three".

Whales are among the few animals other than humans that can learn to produce a sound just by hearing it.

"Researchers have first time scientifically demonstrated the orcas, which are usually known as 'killer whales".

Wikie is undergoing training at Marineland Aquarium in Antibes, France.

When researchers trained Wikie to mimic human words through the blowhole, she surprised everyone.

Though the recordings are not ideal, they are recognizable, including when she says, "Amy", the name of her trainer. She didn't always make flawless copies - as you can hear in the audio above - but the sounds were still recognizable, both by blinded independent assessors and by sound file analysis.

If killer whales move pods or are displaced into a different one, the sounds they make to communicate with fellow killer whales adapt to the new environment.

In the study, these whales learned to mimic words like "hello", "bye bye", and "one, two".

The study also found that Wilkie was able to imitate unfamiliar sounds from other orcas, including the sound of blowing raspberries. Here we use a do-as-I-do paradigm to study the abilities of a killer whale to imitate novel sounds uttered by conspecific (vocal imitative learning) and human models (vocal mimicry).

Forbes reports that according to the study published today, an orca whale named Wikie has started to mimic human speech. When asked to repeat the sounds, there was a fair amount of variability in her vocalizations, something the researchers say could be due to the simple difficulty of producing the sounds or even different levels of motivation between sessions.

"You can not pick a word that is very complicated because then I think you are asking too much - we wanted things that were short but were also distinctive", Josep Call, a professor in evolutionary origins of mind at the University of St. Andrews, told The Guardian.

Wikie was able to repeat a handful of words including "hello", "bye bye", "one, two" and "Amy". The shackles imposed by training regimes created to get captive whales and dolphins to perform precise tricks and maneuvers curtail innovation, and innovation is exactly what is needed to keep highly intelligent animals mentally stimulated.

To be absolutely clear, there is no evidence that Wikie understood the sounds she was making.

Call and colleagues believe that this astute ability to learn sounds by vocal imitation lies at the very core of the orca dialects observed in the wild. However, killer whales have their own accents and dialects-unique sounds created only within their groups (called pods).

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