Killer whale recorded mimicking language

An orca named Wikie can make sounds that kind of, sort of seem like words such as "hello" and "bye-bye."

Bonnie Burton
Journalist Bonnie Burton writes about movies, TV shows, comics, science and robots. She is the author of the books Live or Die: Survival Hacks, Wizarding World: Movie Magic Amazing Artifacts, The Star Wars Craft Book, Girls Against Girls, Draw Star Wars, Planets in Peril and more! E-mail Bonnie.
Bonnie Burton
2 min read

Orcas are among the smartest sea creatures, and now it appears that one clever killer whale can sound almost human. 

Before you get excited at the idea of a talking killer whale, in this particular case a 14-year-old orca named Wikie is repeating spoken sounds, including "hello," "bye-bye," and "one, two, three."

The talented orca who hails from Marineland Aquarium in Antibes, France, is the subject of a new scientific study written by researchers from the Complutense University of Madrid and Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. 

The study, entitled "Imitation of novel conspecific and human speech sounds in the killer whale (Orcinus orca)," was published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"We found that the subject made recognizable copies of all familiar and novel conspecific and human sounds tested and did so relatively quickly (most during the first 10 trials and three in the first attempt)," the researchers said in the study. "Our results lend support to the hypothesis that the vocal variants observed in natural populations of this species can be socially learned by imitation."

During the study, researchers discovered that Wikie was able to mimic the words much like a parrot, without understanding the context of the language itself. Even though the orca is not technically comprehending the words it repeats, the fact that it is imitating human language through social learning is considered profound. 

"One of the main things that fired the evolution of human intelligence is the ability to have social learning, to imitate, and to have culture," researcher Jose Abramson of the Complutense University of Madrid told Phys Org.  "So if you find that other species have also the capacity for social learning, and of complex social learning that could be imitation or teaching, you expect a lot of flexibility in that species."

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