RESEARCHERS HAVE TAUGHT A 14-YEAR-OLD KILLER WHALE (OR ORCA, ORINCUS ORCA) to say humans words like “Hello,” “bye-bye,” “one-two-three” and the name Amy.
Rather than engaging in conversation, the orca, named, Wikie is mimicking the sounds taught her without understanding them, the scientists say.
But the feat makes for amusing videos and, more to the point, it may advance their understanding of orca communication in the wild.
The work by scientists from Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and Chile, was reported in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Rounding out the international flavor of the work, Wikie resides in the Marineland Aquarium in Antibes, France.
It’s been known for some time that separate pods of orcas in the wild have unique vocal dialects –referred to in the journal article as “unique and shared call types” – and that they sometimes change when exposed to different pods.
“As many of these group-differentiated signatures are not explained by ecological factors or genetic inheritance,” the authors write, “the hypothesis that they may have been acquired by social learning, particularly imitation, appears plausible.”