Killer whales can 'talk' as scientists teach orcas to mimic human speech

The killer whale was able to mimic the duration and pitch of human speech coming close on three words to a ‘high-quality match’. File

But she seems to have more trouble with "One-Two-Three".

Another viewer said it reminded him of The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town, a sketch made famous in BBC comedy The Two Ronnies in 1976.

Whales are among the few animals other than humans that can learn to produce a novel sound just by hearing it.

The worldwide team behind the study included Professor Josep Call, a psychologist from St Andrews University's school of neuroscience. Humans obviously are good at it...

Interestingly, DTW analysis showed that in some cases, Wikie's mimicry of unfamiliar sounds was better than her mimicry of familiar ones, the scientists noted.

But a new experiment has shown the mammals are also apparently capable of mimicking human speech, a feat that was previously believed to be limited to primates, birds, elephants, dolphins and seals.

Seeking to measure orcas' ability to copy new sounds, Abramson and a team turned to Wikie, a captive killer whale at the Marineland Aquarium in Antibes, southern France.

Scientists have demonstrated for the first time that orcas, also known as killer whales, can mimic human words, including "Amy", "Bye-Bye" and "One-Two-Three".

The learning of culture, including vocal traditions, "is a key capability in the intertwining lives of killer whales", he said, "and one that is critically harmed in captivity", where animals are isolated and unable to develop the depth of emotions they would in the wild.

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I've never been 100% sure which species was going to rise up and overthrow us as revenge for our terrible mistreatment of the planet and all life on it, but I can't say I'm surprised to learn that it's going to be the humble killer whale.

Their newly-published research suggests whales' ability to imitate sounds helps them communicate in the wild. In two instances, Wilkie was able to mimic the human sound on the first attempt.

Dr. Jose Abramson led a scientific study on Wikie said that killer whales make noises using their blowhole. You might be surprised by what the whale says back.

Available literature indicates that imitating human speech is rare among other animals.

To determine whether the original sounds and Wikie's versions matched, the researchers asked human judges to decide, and then ran computer algorithms to provide a more objective assessment of the similarities. How, and why they are able to do so varies, though the researchers do note that Wikie was producing the sounds in the open air, as opposed to under water as she normally would.

A killer whale named Wikie has started "talking" human language. For example, one "bilingual" beluga who was moved to a tank with bottlenose dolphins eventually learned to speak more like a dolphin than another beluga.

The star of this latest study, Wikie had already been trained to respond to a "copy" command as part of previous research into imitative learning in orcas.

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