Killer Whale Taught To 'Speak' Human Words

01 February, 2018, 00:39 | Author: Patty Aguilar
  • File 20180130 107676

Scientists tested a 14-year-old killer whale named Wikie at the Marineland Aquarium in France.

A high-pitched and eerie voice uttering the name "Amy" is quite clear in the audio released by the study's researchers. Here we use a do-as-I-do paradigm to study the abilities of a killer whale to imitate novel sounds uttered by conspecific (vocal imitative learning) and human models (vocal mimicry).

Finally, Wikie was exposed to a human making three of the orca sounds, as well as six human sounds, including "hello", "Amy", "ah ha", "one, two" and "bye bye". 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 have no evidence that they understand what their "hello" stands for", one of the researchers said.

Wikie is believed to be the first member of her species to mimic human speech.

While mimicking is often a sign of intelligence in animals, Abramson said it does not mean Wikie understands what she is saying, and no context or meaning were provided to the words during the study.

The study also found that Wilkie was able to imitate unfamiliar sounds from other orcas, including the sound of blowing raspberries.


A 16-year-old female orca imitates human speech.

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

After initially listening to the human sound, Wikie was asked to reproduce them by her trainer who said "do this". Apart from parrots whose copycat skills are well-documented, beluga whales, dolphins, seals, and an Asian elephant were previously reported to have tried mimicking human language.

"She is also a painful reminder that in the wild where these awesome animals swim free, they communicate with each other using complex language and even group-specific dialects, natural communication that is utterly denied them in captivity".

Dr Irene Pepperberg, an expert in parrot cognition at Harvard University, also described the study as exciting, but said: "A stronger test would have been whether the various sounds produced could be correctly classified by humans without the models present for comparison". First Wikie listened to three familiar sounds and five unknown sounds uttered by another live whale or through a speaker.

Orcas can say "hello", "bye-bye" and "one-two-three", while the voice doesn't make a ideal mimicry, but sounds impressively identifiable. Sounds made under the water may be quite different.

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