Sunday, 27 May, 2018

Orcas Can Say 'Hello', 'Bye-Bye' and 'One-Two-Three'

Whales learn in families.     Shutterstock Whales learn in families. Shutterstock
Derrick Tucker | 01 February, 2018, 00:37

They studied Wikie at Marineland Aquarium in Antibes, France.

"The results reported here show that killer whales have evolved the ability to control sound production and qualify as open-ended vocal learners", the scientists conclude.

Wikie was able to repeat a handful of words including "hello", "bye bye", "one, two" and "Amy".

Although mimicking human sounds is hard for mammals, whales can seemingly learn to reproduce them by hearing. "We will gain more if we try to understand the natural way each species communicates in its environment than if we try to teach a human language", he said, according to The Mirror. Using this command, an worldwide team of researchers have now taught Wikie to blow raspberries, mimic a creaky door, say hello and bye bye, and repeat numbers, all with her head above water.

Researchers say she might even be able to hold basic conversations with humans in the future.

The non-human sounds included a strong raspberry, a breathy raspberry, and a creaking door.

A 16-year-old female orca imitates human speech.

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"That is what makes it even more impressive - even though the morphology [of orcas] is so different, they can still produce a sound that comes close to what another species, in this case us, can produce", said Call.

Wikie was taught to copy sounds and words from her three-year-old calf Moana and humans.

In the wild, killer whales live in pods and are known to have different dialects, but there has been intense debate in the scientific community around how this came to be. She can also say "Amy" (her trainer) and "one, two, three".

"You can not pick a word that is very complicated because then I think you are asking too much - we wanted things that were short but were also distinctive", said Call. What's more, two human utterances and all of the human-produced orca sounds were managed on the first attempt - although only one human sound - "hello" - was correctly produced more than 50% of the time on subsequent trials. The findings suggest that a captive whale's ability to deftly mimic unfamiliar noises hints that imitation likely plays an important role in building orcas' unique "vocal traditions".

Wilkie's sounds were analyzed first, by human judges, and then using computer analysis.

During the research study, Wikie was trained to become familiar with unknown sounds.

From the water, a high-pitched squeak calls out "hello" but the sound is not coming from a human, it's a whale.

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