It is very rare for mammals to be able to mimic sounds that they hear, although that ability has been observed in marine mammals like beluga whales and dolphins. Now researchers working with a killer whale at the Marineland Aquarium in Antibes, France have discovered that Wikie the orca has a talent for language.
Wikie has learned to speak a handful of human words including “hello” and “bye bye” by mimicking her trainer. Wikie also knows “Amy” and “one, two, three,” although she probably does not realize she’s counting. The fourteen year old orca communicates through her blowhole using squawks, whistles and raspberries as reported by BBC-science.
Is Conversation Possible?
Maybe this is not totally unexpected because orcas live in groups and use unique vocal “dialects” of clicks and singing, to communicate within their “pods” even when separated from each other by many kilometers.
“The killer whale that we studied in captivity was capable of learning vocalisations of other killer whales and also human vocalisations by imitating them,” said Dr Call of the University of St Andrews.
“Therefore, this result suggests this is also a plausible explanation for how killer whales in the wild learn the vocalisations of other killer whales and how they develop their dialects.” (photo – Marineland)
A co-researcher in the study, Dr. Jose Ambramson thinks that basic “conservations” with Wikie may be possible in the future.
“Yes, it’s conceivable … if you have labels, descriptions of what things are,” he said. “It has been done before with a famous grey parrot and dolphins using American sign language; sentences like ‘bring me this object’ or ‘put this object above or below the other’.”
However, he stressed that we should be careful not to impose our human concepts on animals, because there is much more to gain by understanding the way each species communicates naturally in its own environment.
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean.net
See These Related Blue Ocean Articles on Whales:
How To Get More Ocean-Hearted Intel Delivered To Your Inbox!
We believe ocean lovers can change the world. If you care about the health of the ocean and want to do something about it, then connect with the Blue Ocean tribe: Our growing community of ocean change-makers is turning ocean lovers into ocean leaders. It starts with you. Join us!