Killer whales can imitate human speech and blow raspberries, says new study

Whales learn in families.     Shutterstock

The animal's repertoire includes the name "Amy" and "one, two, three".

Co-author of the study Joseph Call professor in evolutionary origins of mind at the University of St Andrews said, "In mammals, it is very rare".

Recent studies have offered additional examples of "talking" animals: a beluga whale in San Diego's National Marine Mammal Foundation that could say the word "out", and a zoo elephant in South Korea named Koshik that can say, "hello", "good", "no", "sit down" and "lie down" in Korean. They studied Wikie at Marineland Aquarium in Antibes, France.

Apparently the creature, whose terrifying powers are growing now even as we speak, has mastered such words and phrases as "hello", "Amy", and "one, two, three", presumably moving on shortly to entire books, specifically chemistry textbooks and the Anarchist's Cookbook.

Remarkably, field observations of killer whales have documented the existence of group-differentiated vocal dialects that are often referred to as traditions or cultures and are hypothesized to be acquired non-genetically. They may copy other members of their kind in the wild, although this needs to be tested.

The project is delightful, showing that killer whales can pick-up and reproduce novel sounds to a striking degree.

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The truly impressive aspect of the results, according to the researchers, is that the morphology of orcas is vastly different than humans, yet they can still produce sounds that mimic our language.

Abramson said that in the future, Wikie may also hold basic conversations.

He said: "It's conceivable. if you have labels, descriptions of what things are".

However, he said we have to be careful about imposing human concepts on animals. The scientists were also quick to pour water on any suggestions that their research indicated Wikie was able to comprehend the sounds she was making as communication.

The charity's director Elisa Allen told Sky News: "How deeply ironic that this research, which speaks volumes of the emotional intelligence of orcas, was conducted in a marine park's cement cell, where they're imprisoned and denied everything that's natural and important to them in order to make money from tourists". And since this was just the one whale, the researchers are unsure whether there are more copy-cat killer whales in the wild.

When housed with bottlenose dolphins for a period of three years, three orcas' vocalizations changed to more closely match those of the dolphins, including dolphin vocalizations such as click trains and whistles.



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