Published: Thu, February 01, 2018
Sci-tech | By Bennie Mills

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

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

It means they can learn and use new sounds, and actually, depend on doing so for survival. The study joins a growing body of research illustrating the deep importance of social learning for killer whales.

Josep Call, professor in evolutionary origins of mind at the University of St Andrews and a co-author of the study said, "The experiment was conducted to learn how flexible a killer whale can be in copying sounds". "We are interested in the possibility that other species also have cultural processes". This seems especially cruel when you consider that orca pods each have their own dialects - so much so that scientists are able to distinguish between pods just by listening to the calls.

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

By better understanding how social learning develops among other species, researchers may be able to better understand how language evolved among early human groups.

An orca performs on August 11, 2013, at the Marineland animal exhibition park in the French Riviera city of Antibes, southeastern France. 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.

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Neither Abramson's team nor the staff at Marineland have any plans to turn Wikie's speaking prowess into a show for the benefit of visitors, but the achievement helps to shed light on an important aspect of previously recorded wild orca behaviour.

"We are looking at what these animals can do", said Dr Abramson. The orca could also imitate a wolf's howl, an elephant's trumpeting, and the sounds of a creaking door and a "raspberry".

Wikie listened to the sounds both live, and replayed as recordings. Wikie attempted some breathy raspberries.

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

The findings were published online today (Jan. 30) in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. Then they used an algorithm to evaluate her vocalizations, based on features like tonality, rhythm and melody contour.

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Wikie first showcased her knack for mimicry by copying the movements of other orcas, as directed by human hand gestures.

"We found that the subject made recognisable copies of all familiar and novel and human sounds tested and did so relatively quickly, most during the first 10 trials and three in the first attempt".

Heike Vester, director of Ocean Sounds, a nonprofit cetacean research organization based in Germany, noted that this research was limited by its sample size of one.

The ability of Wikie to learn and repeat distinctly human sounds is the first time such a phenomenon has been reported in an orca, even anecdotally.

But it does show, once more, that orcas are very smart animals indeed, he added. The orcas have unique vocal dialects, and they love to copy other orcas.

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