A female orca at a marine park in France has learned a handful of words and can mimic human language, according to scientists.
The 16-year-old killer whale, named Wikie, can say “hello,” “bye-bye,” “one, two, three” and the name “Amy,” a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences this week found.
The whale at Marineland Aquarium in Antibes, France, was also able to mimic an elephant’s trumpeting, a wolf’s howl and the sounds of a creaking door, according to Live Science, and she was able to learn the sounds quickly.
The orca was taught to mimic human language through her blowhole using shrill whistles and squawks, and was recorded making the sounds.
The ability to learn language is unusual among mammals; only humans, dolphins and whales can mimic sounds from other species, although birds, like parrots and some crows can copy human sounds, and it’s a sign of intelligence, researchers said, according to the BBC.
“In mammals it is very rare,” study co-author Dr. Josep Call, of the University of St. Andrews, told the BBC.
“Humans, obviously, are good at it … Interestingly, the mammals that can do best are marine animals,” Call said.
Orcas naturally communicate in the wild, vocalizing three distinct types of sounds: clicks, whistles, and pulsed calls, according to Orcalab. They also display dialects, depending on their pod.
Seaworld officials said killer whales rely on sound to communicate with each other, to navigate using echolocation and to hunt in dark or murky waters.
They begin learning the sounds, mainly from their mothers, soon after birth.
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.
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