Killer whale 'repeats human speech' - study (AUDIO, POLL)

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Scientists have found a killer whale in France capable of imitating the sounds of other orcas as well as human speech, including the words "hello", "Amy", and "bye bye".

That said, there is no reason why whales and dolphins can't learn to understand words and context - for instance dogs are good at understanding words, and attach meaning to what they hear.

But Wikie is believed to be the first member of her species to mimic human speech.

The team tested a 14-year-old female orca called Wilkie with multiple sounds in different scenarios, including using loudspeakers.

Wikie, a captured killer whale, just became the first orca that can mimic words in English. Previous sessions with Wikie had already trained her to respond to a "do this" command for a fish reward, the study authors reported.

The team says this display of imitation helps explain how pods of wild killer whales create their own dialect, and how captive whales change their calls to fit in with their new group when moved to different locations.

In the study, these whales learned to mimic words like "hello", "bye bye", and "one, two".

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"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 experts revealed in their paper.

It's not a children's movie, but an actual orca emitting human (ish) words.

Although the orca Wikie's ability to mimic human speech is perhaps the most notable takeaway from this study, she has also been observed twittering like a bird, squawking like a parrot, and even blowing raspberries - which Forbes reports she is particularly fond of. When we tried "hello" and she did the sound... some emotional responses came from the trainers. Researchers suspected this was the case, but hadn't gathered enough evidence of orcas learning and mimicking sounds.

"You can not 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", Josep Call, a professor in evolutionary origins of mind at the University of St. Andrews, told The Guardian.

The results of the experiments were documented in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

According to AFP by way of CBS News, with her head above water, Wikie looks at her trainers, listens to them speak, and then vocalizes "Hello". This could add another layer of difficulty, though it also raises questions as to whether she would learn and repeat sounds differently underwater. Call said that they wanted to see how flexible a killer whale can be in copying sounds.

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