Talking Killer Whale: Scientists Teach Orca To Say 'Hello,' 'Bye-Bye'

Feb 01, 2018, 00:16
Talking Killer Whale: Scientists Teach Orca To Say 'Hello,' 'Bye-Bye'

Scientists say they have recorded a killer whale named Wikie repeating the words "hello" and "bye bye", counting up to three, and even saying the name of her trainer 'Amy'.

Although mimicking human sounds is hard for mammals, whales can seemingly learn to reproduce them by hearing.

New research found that orcas (Orcinus orca) astoundingly imitate human speech, conveying words such as "hello", "bye bye" or "one, two".

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, researchers from institutions in Germany, UK, Spain and Chile, describe how they carried out the latest research with Wikie, a 14-year-old female orca living in an aquarium in France.

When asked to say both "hello" and "one, two, three", Wikie was able to say the phrases right back on the first try.

The scientists working on the research have discovered that the different pods of wild killer whales have their own distinct dialect like humans have according to region.

Wikie wraps her tongue around the word "hello", in one of the study trials. The orca could also imitate a wolf's howl, an elephant's trumpeting, and the sounds of a creaking door and a "raspberry".

Imitating vocal sounds in this way is a key component of language, and the ability to do so is rare in mammals besides humans.

"Killer whales use their blowhole to make noises, nearly like speaking out of your nose, so we were not expecting it to be ideal", said Dr Jose Abramson, a researcher at the Complutense University of Madrid, who led the study.

Throughout the study, Wikie's success was first judged by her two trainers and then confirmed from recordings by six independent adjudicators who compared them to the original sound, without knowing which was which. When we tried "hello" and she did the sound... some emotional responses came from the trainers. The shackles imposed by training regimes created to get captive whales and dolphins to perform precise tricks and maneuvers curtail innovation, and innovation is exactly what is needed to keep highly intelligent animals mentally stimulated. 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.

Wild killer whales are also known to live in groups with unique vocal dialects - learned sounds used for communication that are kept within a particular population and passed to future generations. She was then exposed to five different orca sounds that were unfamiliar to her. They were also confused first listening to ocra's crying voice which sounds similar to a human cry.