Killer whales can 'talk' as scientists teach orcas to mimic human speech

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Scientists have found a killer whale in France capable of imitating the sounds of other orcas as well as human speech, including the words "hello", "Amy", and "bye bye". According to the research team, the discovery of orcas can say "hello", "bye-bye" and "one-two-three' is helpful in studying different pods of savage killer whales that ended up with specific dialects, focusing on the idea that they can be the result of replica between orcas". The same cannot be said for toothed cetaceans (think whales and dolphins) as they produce sounds in their nasal passages, thus making Wikie's audible performance even more remarkable. "We will gain more if we try to understand the natural way each species communicates in its own environment than if we try to teach a human language". Then, she was made to repeat human words.

Wikie also copied the trainer in saying words like hello and goodbye.

Audio recordings of the killer whale's speech include clips of the creature imitating the simple phrases as well as copying certain sounds outside of human language, like a creaking door and someone blowing a raspberry. 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. This is thought to be the first of its kind to copy human speech by a whale.

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"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", said Call. She can also say "Amy" (her trainer) and "one, two, three". This 16-year-old female orca imitates human sound. The findings suggest that a captive whale's ability to deftly mimic unfamiliar noises hints that imitation likely plays an important role in building orcas' unique "vocal traditions".

Wikie had previously participated in an action imitation study, so she already knew the "copy" command, giving her a leg (or a fin) up when it came to "speaking". Then Wikie was exposed to five orca sounds she had never heard before. Cetacean brains are different, the context for communication varies, and in in the water medium where they evolved sound behaves differently. Call explained that dolphins and beluga whales have been known to copy sounds from other species while some birds, like parrots for example, are known to mimic sounds. A similar process was done for the second round, but with all human sounds.

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