Scientists discovered that a captive killer whale or orca dubbed as “Wikie” could imitate human words such as “hello” and “bye-bye.” It could also count one, two, three and mimic strange sounds such as a creaking door or a loud raspberry sound. Wikie lives at Marineland Aquarium in Antibes, France, and is now 14 years old.
The findings of this discovery were published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B on January 31. The study was led by Jose Zamorano Abramson, a psychologist from the Complutense University of Madrid, and other colleagues.
Abramson said that how close Wikie’s imitations come to the originals depends on whether you are emphasizing the rhythm or other aspects of sound. He likened the mimicking of the killer whales to speaking with the nose. He said that instead of vocalizing by passing air through their throats, they sound off by forcing air through passageways in the upper parts of their heads.
About six people and a computer program evaluated and rated Wikie’s mimicry ability, and she did the imitation well particularly in saying “hello” and “bye- bye” than others. You could listen Wikie’s mimicking words and sounds here, provided by Sci-News Magazine.
Dr. Josep Call, the co-author of the study from the University of St. Andrews, said mimicking human words and sounds is very rare in mammals. He explained that the killer whale they examined in captivity was capable of learning vocalizations of other killer whales and also human vocalizations by imitating them. He further said that the result of this study indicates a plausible explanation for how killer whales in the wild learn the vocalizations of other killer whales and how they develop their dialects, as noted by BBC.
The killer whale or orca belongs to the oceanic dolphin family. It is known as the largest of the dolphins. It is also the most potent predator that attacks baleen whale calves, sea lions, seals, and even whales.
The wild orcas are not threats to humans. However, there were reports of captive orcas killing or injuring marine theme park workers. They also have a reputation of being the souls of humans to ruthless killers.