A group of researchers were able to train a 14-year-old orca called Wikie to mimic English words like, “hello” and “bye bye” just like humans do. Wikie was even able to call her trainer by her first name.
Lead author Dr Jose Abramson explained that orcas also known as killer whales make noises through their blowholes, so they are virtually speaking out of their noses. Even though their speech is not perfect, the results were surprising.
The research team’s initial goal was to understand how orcas can imitate noises. Wikie was not able only to imitate the sounds made by her trainer. It also managed to reproduce the sounds emitted by one of its fellow orcas.
A research paper detailing the experiment appeared in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The orca’s trainer instructed it to reproduce the sound with the command “do this”. Wikie also imitated several unique sounds uttered by its three-year-old calf which learned them from the trainer.
Orcas Have Rare Speech Ability
However, the real challenge was imitating human sounds as killer whales are not accustomed with them. Scientists confirmed that Wikie’s sounds and the original sounds were a match through computer algorithms and independent human judges.
The ability to imitate sounds so accurately is very rare in the animal kingdom, researchers said. Not even primates are capable of reproducing human sounds like orcas do.
Orcas, however, are very skilled at imitating sounds as their survival relies on it. Beluga whales and dolphins can also imitate environmental sounds, past research has shown.
In the wild, orca pods use different “dialects” to communicate. They can also mimic the sounds emitted by other species like sea lions and bottlenose dolphins. By imitating sounds, the animals acquire new dialects.
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