In a series of experiments, Wikie was able to recite human words like "hello", "one", "two" and "bye bye" as well as other unfamiliar whale sounds.
However, the killer whale is impressive in reproducing the sounds, even though an orca's vocal anatomy is different from that of humans.
"History will record that in the second decade of the third millennium, a killer whale uttered the word "hello" to a human," Luke Rendell, Lecturer in Biology at the University of St Andrews, which also assisted in the study. Other animals like dolphin, parrots, and elephants use different physical mechanisms to copy human words. "There is no evidence yet now to prove that the ocra understand "hello", added Call. Orca dialects are therefore thought by some researchers to be evidence of "social learning", of traditions or cultures passed on geographically and down generations by non-genetic means.
The creatures already have the ability to copy the movements of other orcas and now this new research reveals that the creatures can also emulate unknown sounds produced by other orcas. When Wikie demonstrated her imitation abilities with those sounds, the researchers moved on to human words. You might be surprised by what the whale says back.
The findings were published online today (Jan. 30) in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
Wikie is also said to have learnt how to say English words such as "hello" and "bye bye" and "Amy" - her trainer's name. The last syllable sounds a bit like a "raspberry" - that sound of contempt humans make by pushing the tongue between the lips and forcibly expelling air to produce a vibration.
In recordings of the experiment, Wikie takes several stabs at "hello".
But he remains hopeful, saying that future research could be developed to explore if it was possible for whales to comprehend the sounds they are making. "The results show that evolution has endowed killer whales with sophisticated imitative capacities and supports the hypothesis that the dialects that have been documented in this species and in other cetaceans can be acquired and maintained through social learning and, more specifically, through imitation".
Diana Reiss, an expert in dolphin communication and professor of psychology at Hunter College, City University of NY, welcomed the research, noting that it extends our understanding of orcas' vocal abilities, with Wikie able to apply a "copy" command learned for imitation of actions to imitation of sounds.
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