Killer whale able to mimic human speech

Terry Joseph
February 1, 2018

From the water, a high-pitched squeak calls out "hello", but the sound is not coming from a human - it's a whale.

"She is certainly further proof that these are highly intelligent mammals whose captivity in marine parks in the 21st century should come to an end", Ms Bass told Sky News. This seems especially cruel when you consider that orca pods each have their own dialects - so much so that scientists are able to distinguish between pods just by listening to the calls.

In the wild, it has been found that different killer whale pods use unique vocal dialects.

Previously, researchers found that the creatures are able to imitate the movements and behaviors of other orcas. Later, Wikie copied orca sounds.

"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.

In a surprising discovery, it has been revealed that killer whales can copy human speech and can mimic words like "hello" and "bye bye".

Wikie, a 14-year-old female killer whale housed at Marineland Aquarium in Antibes, France, was tested by researchers including José Z. Abramson to get her to speak. Here's what they sound like. "Not because it means whales can speak English, but that they are capable of one of the core building blocks of language development in humans: vocal learning, the ability to copy novel sounds".

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Wikie's success takes the number non-human mammal species capable of imitating human speech to four.

"History will record that in the second decade of the third millennium, a killer whale uttered the word "hello" to a human," Luke Rendell, Lecturer in Biology at the University of St Andrews, which also assisted in the study.

The scientists compared the original sounds with the help of a computer algorithm called dynamic time warping (DTW). She successfully reproduced some sounds - such as the phrases "hello" and "one, two, three" - on her first attempt.

However, the killer whale is impressive in reproducing the sounds, even though an orca's vocal anatomy is different from that of humans.

The rate of successful "pronunciation" also varied. It is well known, of course, in a few species of birds - notably parrots and mynahs. There is no evidence that suggests this, in any case.

Instead, it's simply a demonstration of orcas' ability to learn and repeat new sounds, a skill that may be at the heart of some puzzling behavior observed in the wild. More research might confirm this hunch.

And in 2012, another paper in Current Biology reported "spontaneous mimicry of the human voice" by a beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas). There might be a causal link between the two.

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