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Killer Whales Can Imitate Human Speech, Study Finds

Killer Whales Can Imitate Human Speech, Study Finds

Say what? Orcas can mimic human speech-a few words of it, anyway. That ability would support the observation that different orca pods can have different "dialects" that they learn directly from each other. And it is further evidence that these remarkable animals shouldn't be held in captivity.

"We wanted to see how flexible a killer whale can be in copying sounds", Josep Call, professor in evolutionary origins of mind at the University of St Andrews and a co-author of the study, told The Guardian.

The 14-year-old orca lives in Marineland at Antibes, France, and is the first in the world ever recorded by scientists allegedly saying human words.

In the wild, it has been found that different killer whale pods use unique vocal dialects. In 30 trials, the scientists presented Wikie with recordings of unfamiliar sounds and words spoken by trainers, which the whale was then instructed to copy as in-air vocalizations (rather than underwater). In two instances, Wilkie was able to mimic the human sound on the first attempt.

The researchers found that Wikie successfully copied all of the sounds, a lot of them in fewer than 10 tries.

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.

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.

Killer whale "repeats human speech" - study (AUDIO, POLL) Killer whales have for the first time been recorded apparently imitating human speech. (Despite the name, killer whales are actually in the dolphin family.) Unlike humans, whales and dolphins "speak" through their nasal passages, and have sound-producing organs that scientists believe evolved to accommodate changing compression as the animals swim and dive through different levels of water pressure.

The findings were published online today (Jan. 30) in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. But it was for more than just human amusement.

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