Research

Killer Whale Taught To 'Speak' Human Words

Killer Whale Taught To 'Speak' Human Words”

Wikie, who lives in Marineland Aquarium in France with her 3-year-old calf named Moana, had previously been trained to copy actions performed by a fellow orca when prompted by a human gesture.

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 have no evidence that they understand what their "hello" stands for", one of the researchers said.

Orcas can say "hello", "bye-bye" and "one-two-three", while the voice doesn't make a flawless mimicry, but sounds impressively identifiable.

Wikie isn't "talking", and she's not the first species to copy human sounds.

Say what? Orcas can mimic human speech - a few words of it, anyway.

Wikie learned to make human sounds when her blowhole was exposed to the air by copying a trainer at a marine park in France.

The truly impressive aspect of the results, according to the researchers, is that the morphology of orcas is vastly different than humans, yet they can still produce sounds that mimic our language.

Vocal imitation is a hallmark of human spoken language, yet in other animals it is strikingly rare.

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"I think here we have the first evidence that killer whales may be learning sounds by vocal imitation, and this is something that could be the basis of the dialects we observe in the wild - it is plausible", Call told The Guardian.

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

However, cetaceans - the mammal group that includes whales and dolphins - are known to be highly adept when it comes to vocal imitation.

Dr Jose Abramson, from Complutense University of Madrid in Spain, a co-researcher on the study, said basic "conversations" with Wikie may one day be possible.

"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.

Wikie is a wild killer whale, or orca, which is part of the oceanic dolphins' family.

Past year the company vowed to fight a ban on breeding killer whales and dolphins in captivity, claiming it would harm its animals.

A 2012 study in the journal Current Biology reported a male Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) that could convincingly imitate some Korean words.

They eat marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, and even whales, and are known to grab seals right off the ice.



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