Talking killer whale verifies orcas' ability to mimic human sounds

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

A killer whale that can mimic words such as "hello" and "bye bye" is thought to be the first of its kind to copy human speech.

I've never been 100% sure which species was going to rise up and overthrow us as revenge for our awful mistreatment of the planet and all life on it, but I can't say I'm surprised to learn that it's going to be the humble killer whale. They studied a female named Wikie at Marineland Aquarium in Antibes, France.

Orcas can say "hello", "bye-bye" and "one-two-three", while the voice doesn't make a flawless mimicry, but sounds impressively identifiable.

"Our study shows that our vocal learnings, even of sounds that are not in the killer whale repertoire, is plausible", he said.

Her vocabulary only includes a handful of words, but with them, an orca at a French marine facility is proving that cetaceans can be taught how to pronounce specific sounds with their blowholes.

Wikie has been recorded copying words such as "hello" and "Amy", as well as counting "one, two, three".




Vocal imitation is a hallmark of human spoken language, which, along with other advanced cognitive skills, has fuelled the evolution of human culture.

While mimicking is often a sign of intelligence in animals, Abramson said it does not mean Wikie understands what she is saying, and no context or meaning were provided to the words during the study. The scientific study is well conceived and thoroughly done (please see the abstract at the end of this article), and essentially was done to validate that orcas can learn dialects from both conspecifics and humans.

Based on the success of the killer whale experiment, the research team is claiming that genuine conversations with Wikie might one day become possible.

He said: "It's conceivable. if you have labels, descriptions of what things are. The capacity for vocal imitation shown in this study may scaffold the natural vocal traditions of killer whales in the wild".

However, he said we have to be careful about imposing human concepts on animals.

Killer whales, or orcas, are the largest of the dolphins and one of the world's most powerful predators. Killer whales have previously been observed mimicking other marine animals like the whistle of the sea dolphins and barks of the sea lion. The polka-dot wasp moth mimics the warning thrum produced by a bad-tasting moth species, to protect itself from predators, scientists reported in May 2007, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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