Killer Whale Imitating Speech Says A Lot About Their Adaptation Skills

OuterPlacesPublished: January 31, 201888 plays$0.30 earned
Published: January 31, 2018

We know cockatoos can speak, we know that crows can imitate human laughter, but to see a killer whale imitate human speech, not that is new!

A group of scientists taught a 14-year-old killer whale named Wikie to copy human speech. She is very well trained and in a previous study, Wikie was taught to copy behaviors.

The researchers recorded a talking session with Wikie, where she repeats words like “hello”, “bye bye”, “one two”, even her handler’s name, Amy. “Killer whales use their blowhole to make noises, almost like speaking out of your nose, so we were not expecting it to be perfect,” said Dr Jose Abramson, a researcher at the Complutense University of Madrid, who led the study.

The goal of the research was to understand how capable orcas are in imitating noises, so that they can ultimately understand how they learn in their natural habitat. Wikie was also exposed to noises created by other whales, to see if she can imitate them as well. Her trainer trained Wikie to reproduce the sounds by giving her the command “do this”.

Wiki’s calf, three-year-old Moana, was even taught to make five unique sounds that could later be used to test her mother’s skill.

Human judges were asked to determine whether Wikie’s versions of human speech matched, and then ran algorithms for a more objective assessment. Imitating vocal sounds in this way is a key component of language, and the ability to do so is rare in mammals besides humans.

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