Killer Whales Can Mimic Human Sounds (Study)

Killer whales are able to mimic human words, a study revealed.

Researchers revealed that killer whales have the capacity to imitate human speech as well as unfamiliar sounds produced by other orcas.

The study looked at a 14-year-old female killer whale named Wikie, who was trained to copy behaviors in a previous research. Wikie was recorded mimicking English words such as “hello”, “bye bye” and “one, two”. The killer whale could also be heard saying her trainer’s name, Amy.

According to the researchers, this study focused on how different wild killer whales could have incorporated distinct dialects in their communication patterns. The discovery adds weight to the theory that their dialects are the result of imitation between orcas.

Scientists already knew that these animals were able to copy the movements of other orcas, even to the point of mimicking the sounds of sea lions and bottlenose dolphins.

“We thought what would be really convincing is to present them with something that is not in their repertoire,” said Josep Call, professor in evolutionary origins of mind at the University of St Andrews and co-author of the study.

The researchers claim that only a small fraction of the animal kingdom are able to imitate human speech, the feat depending on their brain pathways and vocal apparatus.

Other animals were shown to mimic human speech in the past, including parrots, dolphins, elephants, orangutans, and beluga whales.

Cetaceans, in particular, were thought to be the most adept at producing human sounds, of which whales and dolphins belong to.

According to the lead author of the study, Dr. Jose Abramson, killer whales are able to “speak” by using their blowhole to generate noises which sound like something is speaking out of their nose.

While a killer whale sounding like a human is one for the movies, Professor Call said that there isn’t any evidence that points to the orcas understanding what they’re actually saying.

The study was published in the journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Image Source: Pexels


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