On the talking whale

Wikie  a 16-year-old female orca in a French marine theme park is able to copy words such as ‘hello’ ‘bye bye’ and ‘Amy’ as well as count to three. The sounds emerge as parrot-like squawks shrill whistles or raspberries but most

"Not because it means whales can speak English, but that they are capable of one of the core building blocks of language development in humans: vocal learning, the ability to copy novel sounds".

"Killer whales use their blowhole to make noises, nearly like speaking out of your nose, so we were not expecting it to be perfect", said lead researcher Dr Jose Abramson from the Complutense University of Madrid. Humans obviously are good at it... "Interestingly, the mammals that can do best are marine animals", Call said.

Scientists have taught a killer whale to imitate human speech, in a new study released on January 31. She can also say "Amy" (her trainer) and "one, two, three".

The scientists thought the ability of Wilkie to imitate new noises may provide some insight into the process by which whales imitate the sounds they hear in the wild, and acquire dialects.

Researchers said more study is needed to establish "the role of social learning in the killer whale's vocal dialects in the wild" and to determine and assess different sound features in orcas.




"Our study shows that our vocal learnings, even of sounds that are not in the killer whale repertoire, is plausible", he said.

Previously, only three other mammals have been described doing so - an elephant in 2012, harbour seals in 1985, and a beluga whale in 2012 (you should listen here, it's hilarious and amazing).

"You can not pick a word that is very complicated because then I think you are asking too much - we wanted things that were short but were also distinctive", said Call. Dr Jose Abramson, of Complutense University in Madrid, said: "Yes, it's conceivable - if you have labels, descriptions of what things are". "We will gain more if we try to understand the natural way each species communicates in its own environment than if we try to teach a human language". Such sounds were made by Wikie when she was partly flooded by her blowhole, which is a human equivalent for a nose bared in the air.

Killer whales, or orcas, are the largest of the dolphins and one of the world's most powerful predators.

Whales are known for their impressive communications skills which allow pods to "talk" to each other through complex clicks and singing, even when they are 100 miles apart. The polka-dot wasp moth mimics the warning thrum produced by a bad-tasting moth species, to protect itself from predators, scientists reported in May 2007, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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