London, Feb 2 (IANS) A killer whale, named Wikie, has learned to pronounce words like “hello,” “bye bye” and “one, two” after a brief period of training, according to a new study.
The 14-year-old female orca lives in a French aquarium with her three-year-old calf, Xinhua news agency reported.
Wikie learns so quickly that she copied the most testing sounds during the first 10 trials and three at the first attempt, said the study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
At first, the research team trained Wikie to mimic three familiar orca sounds made by her calf Moana.
Then she was trained to copy five sounds belonging to other orcas she had never heard before, including a sound resembling a creaking door and blowing a raspberry.
Finally, Wikie was exposed to a human making three of the orca sounds and six human voices, including “hello,” “Amy,” “ah ha,” “one, two,” and “bye bye.”
Though the words are short and simple, the founding is “plausible”, said Josep Call, Professor at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and a co-author of the study.
“I think here we have the first evidence that killer whales may be learning sounds by vocal imitation, and this is something that could be the basis of the dialects we observe in the wild,” said Call.
Whether the ability of mimicking sounds is special to Wikie or can be found in all orcas needs further research on wild killer whales, the researcher added.
Did Wikie know what the meaning of the human sounds she was copying was? Call said no.
“We have no evidence that they understand what their ‘hello’ stands for,” he said.