Orca Learns to Say 'Hello'

Captive killer whale named Wikie has been 'taught to speak human words through her blowhole'

Wikie, a 14-year-old female orca, was taught to speak words through its blowhole and scientists have now recorded her "saying it loud.' Besides 'hello", she can even say her trainer's name 'Amy, ' The Telegraph reported.

While other animals like dolphins, bats, seals, elephants and parrots have already been found to mimic human speech, Rendell says a whale repeating "hello" and other phrases meaningless to the mammals proves "they are capable of one of the core building blocks of language development in humans: vocal learning".

Scientists have taught a killer whale to imitate human speech, in a new study released on January 31.

In their paper, a team of researchers led by Jose Abramson of the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, in Santiago, Chile, describe exposing Wikie to 11 novel sounds, some human and some not, and asking her to repeat them. She was trained step by step. Wikie could utter "hello" 55 percent of the time, while her "bye-bye" was correct only 21 percent of the time, suggesting some sounds are harder than others to reproduce for orcas.

In the wild, killer whales live in pods and each has its own dialect, which includes calls that are completely unique to themselves.

Wikie wraps her tongue around the word "hello", in one of the study trials.

The non-human sounds included a strong raspberry, a breathy raspberry, and a creaking door.




In addition to human sounds, Wikie was exposed to noises made by another killer whale to see if she was capable of imitating them.

It's not a children's movie, but an actual orca emitting human (ish) words. Wikie successfully copied all of the sounds, the researchers found, though some took longer to learn than others. When we tried "hello" and she did the sound... some emotional responses came from the trainers.

The worldwide team behind the study included Professor Josep Call, a psychologist from St Andrews University's school of neuroscience. 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.

Wikie was given a fish or an affectionate pat when she achieved the sound to reinforce the learning.

Whales have the rare ability to produce a particular sound just by hearing.

"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 researchers said.

Previous year the company vowed to fight a ban on breeding killer whales and dolphins in captivity, claiming it would harm its animals.

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