tiptrot.com July 17, 2018

Orca learns mimic human speech

01 February 2018, 12:35 | Gerardo Harmon

Whales learn in families. Shutterstock

Whales learn in families.     Shutterstock

Wikie, a 16-year-old female orca that lives in a French marine theme park, has been recorded copying words such as "hello" and "bye", in what is believed to be a world first.

Dr. Jose Abramson led a scientific study on Wikie said that killer whales make noises using their blowhole.

High-pitched, eerie and yet distinct, the sound of a voice calling the name "Amy" is unmistakable.

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

The killer whale that can mimic human words is proof the "highly intelligent" mammals should be released from captivity, animal charities have said. Researchers say it sheds light on how killer whales are able to develop pod-specific dialects, and to communicate cooperative strategies that can be employed while hunting. Using this command, an worldwide team of researchers have now taught Wikie to blow raspberries, mimic a creaky door, say hello and bye bye, and repeat numbers, all with her head above water.

Wikie also copied the trainer in saying words like hello and goodbye. She easily developed sounds resembling a creaking door and the blowing of a raspberry.

A killer whale has been taught by scientists to copy human speech.

While other animals like dolphins, bats, seals, elephants and parrots have already been found to mimic human speech, Rendell says a whale repeating "hello" and other phrases meaningless to the mammals proves "they are capable of one of the core building blocks of language development in humans: vocal learning".

The researchers set out to find out whether killer whales could learn new vocalisations by imitating others.

"Yes, it's conceivable ... if you have labels, descriptions of what things are", he said. The researchers also had blindfolded judges listen to audio samples - original and orca-produced - and decide whether the recordings sounded similar.

The researchers concluded: "In sum, Wikie made recognizable copies of the demonstrated sound judged in real time by two observers, Wikie's trainer and one experimenter, later confirmed by both after listening to the recordings". However, because the experiments were conducted above water, the results don't indicate how accurately wild orcas may reproduce unfamiliar sounds that they hear underwater, and further investigation will be required to gauge the role that mimicry plays in orcas' social communication, the scientists wrote in the study.

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