2 February 2018 A 14-year-old killer whale in France named Wikie has successfully imitated human speech, according to researchers who […]
2 February 2018
A 14-year-old killer whale in France named Wikie has successfully imitated human speech, according to researchers who got her to squeak out convincing versions of words, including “hello,” “Amy” and “bye, bye.”
While birds such as parrots and mynas are known to be able to mimic human sounds, only a few mammals, including a zoo elephant in South Korea, have been documented doing so.
Scientists already knew killer whales could imitate bottlenose dolphins and sea lions, but the research found Wikie was capable of copying the sounds of one of its human trainers.
Wikie made the noise with its head out of the water and with its blowhole exposed, which researches said was significant as it normally communicates underwater.
Although the subject did not make perfect copies of all of the sounds, «they were recognisable copies as assessed by both external independent blind observers and the acoustic analysis».
“We wanted to see how flexible a killer whale can be in copying sounds,” the University of St. Andrews’ Josep Call said, via The Guardian.
The talkative Wikie is reportedly the first orca to be trained to repeat human sounds. The captive whale is still working her pronunciation however, as the study reports she accurately said “hello” about half of the time and “bye-bye” once every five tries.
Biologists are now working to see if Wikie and other mammals who have learned to mimic human speech actually understand the meaning of the words they’re “saying.”