An Orca Has Been Taught to "Say" Human Words in a World

Lena Tucker
February 1, 2018

In 30 trials, the scientists presented Wikie with recordings of unfamiliar sounds and words spoken by trainers, which the whale was then instructed to copy as in-air vocalizations (rather than underwater). 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".

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

The project is delightful, showing that killer whales can pick-up and reproduce novel sounds to a striking degree.

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

Researchers have lately found that orcas got different accents and those accents are picked up by the killer whales while they imitate the adults when they are young, just like children learn how to speak by mimicking and copying.

The scientists wanted to understand how capable whales are of imitating noises, so they could understand how whales learn in their natural habitat.

The sounds made by Wikie are parrot-like noises as well as shrill whistles through her blowhole. It is for the first time that a mammal has been able to copy human words. They can mimic the sound of bottlenose dolphins and sea lions.

A killer whale in France has become the first of its kind to mimic human speech.

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

The researchers found that Wikie successfully copied all of the sounds, a lot of them in fewer than 10 tries.

He said: "It's conceivable. if you have labels, descriptions of what things are". This 16-year-old female orca imitates human sound.

Remarkably, field observations of killer whales have documented the existence of group-differentiated vocal dialects that are often referred to as traditions or cultures and are hypothesized to be acquired non-genetically. Then Wikie was exposed to five orca sounds she had never heard before. Previous sessions with Wikie had already trained her to respond to a "do this" command for a fish reward, the study authors reported. The researchers also had blindfolded judges listen to audio samples - original and orca-produced - and decide whether the recordings sounded similar.

While the sounds were all made and copied when the animals' heads were out of the water, Call said the study shed light on orca behaviour.

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