A killer whale named Wikie has started 'talking' human language. She can say 'hello', 'bye bye' and count till three!
Wikie, a 14-year-old female orca, was taught to speak words through its blowhole and scientists have now recorded her 'saying it loud.' Besides 'hello', she can even say her trainer's name 'Amy,' The Telegraph reported.
Whales have great communication skills. Killer whales have previously been observed mimicking other marine animals like the whistle of the sea dolphins and barks of the sea lion. Even beluga whales have been observed copying humans but so far, no controlled experiments have been conducted to verify the reports.
The sounds made by Wikie are parrot-like noises as well as shrill whistles through her blowhole.
Researchers have lately found that orcas got different accents and those accents are picked up by the killer whales while they imitate the adults when they are young, just like children learn how to speak by mimicking and copying.
"Vocal imitation is a hallmark of human spoken language, which, along with other advanced cognitive skills, has fuelled the evolution of human culture," José Abramson of the Complutense University of Madrid, was quoted as saying by The Telegraph.
"We found that the subject made recognisable copies of all familiar and novel and human sounds tested and did so relatively quickly, most during the first 10 trials and three in the first attempt. Our results lend support to the hypothesis that the vocal variants observed in natural populations of this species can be socially learned by imitation," Abramson stated further.
Killer whales live in pods in the wild and each has a dialect of its own. The dialect includes calls that are unique to themselves.
A new experiment was carried out in which Wikie was trained in a way that she could understand the signal when she had to mimic and her trainer invited and gave her 11 new sounds like howling of a wolf, elephant call and a creaking door.
The trainer gave Wikie a fish to eat or patted her with love to reinforce learning. Whether Wikie's vocalisation matched the original noise and words or not was being rated by six judges.
"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," the researchers said.
"The subject's matching accuracy is all the more remarkable as she was able to accomplish it in response to sounds presented in-air and not in-water, the species' usual medium for acoustic communication. It is conceivable that our data represent a conservative estimate of the killer whale's capacity for vocal imitation," the researchers told The Telegraph.