Orca are able to mimic human speech, according to new study

01 February, 2018, 00:38 | Author: Yolanda Murray
  • Killer whale learns to imitate human speech in world first

Researchers have lately found that orcas got different accents and those accents are picked up by the killer whales while they imitate the adults when they are young, just like children learn how to speak by mimicking and copying.

I've never been 100% sure which species was going to rise up and overthrow us as revenge for our disgusting 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.

The researchers were studying a 14-year-old female killer whale named Wikie, who was well-trained and had been taught how to copy behaviours in a previous study.

The researchers concluded: "In sum, Wikie made recognizable copies of the demonstrated sound judged in real time by two observers, Wikie's trainer and one experimenter, later confirmed by both after listening to the recordings".

"The results reported here show that killer whales have evolved the ability to control sound production and qualify as open-ended vocal learners", the scientists conclude. Using this command, an global team of researchers have now taught Wikie to blow raspberries, mimic a creaky door, say hello and bye bye, and repeat numbers, all with her head above water.

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Vocal imitation is a hallmark of human spoken language, which, along with other advanced cognitive skills, has fuelled the evolution of human culture.

The team found that Wikie was often quickly able to copy the sounds, whether from an orca or a human, with all of the novel noises mimicked within 17 trials. Some birds can mimic human speech, notably parrots, but also some members of the crow family.

Previously, only three other mammals have been described doing so - an elephant in 2012, harbour seals in 1985, and a beluga whale in 2012 (you should listen here, it's hilarious and amazing).

Scientists leading the research now believe that Wikie may be able to have basic "conversations" with humans one day.

The scientists thought the ability of Wilkie to imitate new noises may provide some insight into the process by which whales imitate the sounds they hear in the wild, and acquire dialects. "It has been done before with a famous grey parrot and dolphins using American sign language; sentences like "bring me this object" or "put this object above or below the other".

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"But you have to be careful about imposing our human concepts on animals".

From the water, a high-pitched squeak calls out "hello" but the sound is not coming from a human, it's a whale. First, the researchers and whale trainers revisited the copy commands that were learned four years prior to reinforce the training.

Killer whales, or orcas, are the largest of the dolphins and one of the world's most powerful predators.

"They have even been known to imitate bottlenose dolphins and sea lions", said Dr Abramson.

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