In an astounding discovery, it has been determined that a 14 year old Killer Whale ‘Wikie’ has been successful in imitating human sounds of words “hello”, “one, two”, “bye bye” and “Amy”. Wikie is a female orca, trained by her coach Amy. She lives in an aquarium in France.
ABILITY TO APE HUMAN SPEECH
Though, the sound produced by Wikie is not very clear but it is distinctively identifiable. Elaborating further, Dr Jose Abramson, a researcher at the Complutense University of Madrid said, “Killer whales use their blowhole to make noises, almost like speaking out of your nose, so we were not expecting it to be perfect. But we were surprised by how close it was.”
It is a rarest of a rare case as scientists believe that only a fraction of animals can ape human speech.
Josep Call, a professor in evolutionary origins of mind at the University of St Andrews and a co-author of the study said, “That is what makes it even more impressive – even though the morphology [of orcas] is so different, they can still produce a sound that comes close to what another species, in this case us, can produce,” said Call.
A few speculated that Wikie could probably understand the meaning of the words she imitates. However, Josep Call rejected these claims. He said, “We have no evidence that they understand what their ‘hello’ stands for.”
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The discovery elucidates the ability of these intelligent species to mimic the sounds that they are exposed to in their surroundings. Previously, it was reported that the Orcas were capable of imitating the sound produced by bottlenose dolphins and sea lions.
Speaking about Orcas ability to mimic human speech, Josep Call said, “We wanted to see how flexible a killer whale can be in copying sounds. We thought what would be really convincing is to present them with something that is not in their repertoire – and in this case ‘hello’ [is] not what a killer whale would say.”
However, scientists are yet to discover the reason behind their mimicry. While a few believe that animals imitate sounds to misguide their predators, there are others who believe that their reason for this behavior is to attract a potential mate.
THE TRAINING OF KILLER WHALE, WIKIE
Wikie was first exposed to sounds created by her three-year-old calf Moana. The calf produced distinct sounds, which Wikie copied. She was then introduced to 6 human sounds. It included words such as, “hello”, “Amy”, “ah ha”, “one, two” and “bye bye”.
Josep Call said that, “You cannot pick a word that is very complicated because then I think you are asking too much – we wanted things that were short but were also distinctive.”
Wikie’s performance was judged by two of her trainers and then sent for testing to six independent adjudicators.
Josep Call further added, “I think here we have the first evidence that killer whales may be learning sounds by vocal imitation, and this is something that could be the basis of the dialects we observe in the wild – it is plausible,”