Killer whale reported to imitate human speech

01 February, 2018, 00:38 | Author: Cecelia Webb
  • 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

(Female orcas, also known as killer whales, usually live about 50 years, but can live as long as 100.) Using hand commands that instructed the orca, named Wikie, to copy certain noises, the researchers were able to teach her how to say words including "hello", "one, two, three", and "Amy" (the orca's trainer's name was Amy Walton).

That said, there is no reason why whales and dolphins can't learn to understand words and context - for instance dogs are good at understanding words, and attach meaning to what they hear.

"We thought what would be really convincing is to present them with something that is not in their repertoire - and in this case "hello" [is] not what a killer whale would say", Call said.

Though the recordings are not flawless, they are recognizable, including when she says, "Amy", the name of her trainer.

The project is delightful, showing that killer whales can pick-up and reproduce novel sounds to a striking degree. And Wikie was taught to say the words through her blowhole.

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

The whale words were also analysed in waveform and matched the human words when the acoustical recordings were compared.




And while such a feat - augmented by teaching the same whale to repeat "one, two" and other unusual sounds - might sound like a circus trick, it has a serious goal behind it.

But the scientist who led the study believes she could have a basic chat in future.

"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. Killer whales, also called orcas, are known for their unique ability to imitate other orcas in their group.

The charity's director Elisa Allen told Sky News: "How deeply ironic that this research, which speaks volumes of the emotional intelligence of orcas, was conducted in a marine park's cement cell, where they're imprisoned and denied everything that's natural and important to them in order to make money from tourists".

"After one has done it, one of the next questions is, can all killer whales do it?"

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

A year ago the company vowed to fight a ban on breeding killer whales and dolphins in captivity, claiming it would harm its animals. Killer whales have previously been observed mimicking other marine animals like the whistle of the sea dolphins and barks of the sea lion.

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