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

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Say what? Orcas can mimic human speech-a few words of it, anyway. They included words and also noises such as an elephant call, a wolf howl and a creaking door. And she reproduced the new sounds quickly, some within the first attempt.

Recently scientists have discovered that whales have different "accents" or "cultures" and the new study suggests that those differences are picked up when young through imitation of adults, in a similar way to how children learn to speak through copying.

"We have no evidence that they understand what their "hello" stands for", one of the researchers said. Griffin was not involved in the recent study.

The trainer then made sounds not previously heard by the Orca and gave the signal for the whale to copy the sound.

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

The ability of this orca to produce human sounds is especially significant due to the species' anatomy.

Image royal society publishing
Image royal society publishing

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". They weren't ideal imitations, but they were certainly recognizable, the study authors reported.

Her vocabulary only includes a handful of words, but with them, an orca at a French marine facility is proving that cetaceans can be taught how to pronounce specific sounds with their blowholes. The polka-dot wasp moth mimics the warning thrum produced by a bad-tasting moth species, to protect itself from predators, scientists reported in May 2007, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

While developed speech is a trait unique to humans, there are a number of animals that can mimic human speech.

The researchers wrote in their paper that "Although the ability to copy sounds from conspecifics is wide-spread [sic] in birds, it is strikingly rare in mammals, and among primates it is uniquely human". Indeed, Wikie's reproduction of the word "hello" sounds practically human.

Researchers have trained an orca whale named Wikie to mimic human speech, making her one of the first mammals to accomplish the feat.

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