Ever felt like saying ‘hello’ to a scary killer whale? No? There’s one named Wikie whom you might actually want to because she too can actually speak the word ‘hello’ – intimating humans! Fascinating, isn’t it?
Her head above water, pretty much like a dolphin, looked at her human trainer with her scary killer eyes next to her pool, listens to what he says and then loudly vocalises a loud ‘hello’! The whale is called ‘Wikie’ is a 14-year-old whale in France who is being trained to intimate humans – vocally. The orca, a resident of the Marineland aquarium in the city of Antibes, has successfully mimicked human speech. And Wikie can actually say ‘hello’, well, it is not a perfect intimation, but it is certainly recognisable and we are not complaining about it. After all, it is the first scientific demonstration of an orca mimicking human words, which also included “Amy” – the name of Wikie’s handler – “Bye-Bye”, and “One-Two-Three”.
While we have often witnessed birds like parrots and mynahs imitating human sounds and speech, only a few mammals have been documented doing the same, including a zoo elephant in South Korea. During previous studies, Wikie had already been trained to respond to commands like ‘copy’ or ‘do that’. But, this time the researchers introduced her to sounds she had never heard or uttered before – some orca and some human – while also utilizing response-training. She did well, making “recognizable copies” of all the sounds within 17 tries, the researchers reported Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The orca got two of the human sounds right on her very first attempt: “hello” and “one, two, three”.
The international team of researchers say that Wikie’s skills may shed light on how each wild killer whale pod fashions its own distinct dialect – a tribal language of sorts that scientists suspect is socially learned. Orcas had previously been observed mimicking sea lion and dolphin sounds, but the authors say this study is the first to test their ability in a controlled experiment. And Wikie’s performance, they say, shows that vocal imitation may be one secret to killer whale communication.