Wikie can say 'hello' and 'bye bye'

Wikie  a 16-year-old female orca in a French marine theme park is able to copy words such as ‘hello’ ‘bye bye’ and ‘Amy’ as well as count to three. The sounds emerge as parrot-like squawks shrill whistles or raspberries but most

The sounds made by Wikie are parrot-like noises as well as shrill whistles through her blowhole. They included words and also noises such as an elephant call, a wolf howl and a creaking door. Killer whales, also called orcas, are known for their unique ability to imitate other orcas in their group. First, the researchers and whale trainers revisited the copy commands that were learned four years prior to reinforce the training. Griffin was not involved in the recent study. Scientists believe that these findings lend support to the theory that these dialects are a result of imitation between orcas.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, researchers from institutions in Germany, UK, Spain and Chile, describe how they carried out the latest research with Wikie, a 14-year-old female orca living in an aquarium in France.

According to AFP by way of CBS News, with her head above water, Wikie looks at her trainers, listens to them speak, and then vocalizes "Hello".

Dr Irene Pepperberg, an expert in parrot cognition at Harvard University, also described the study as exciting, but said: "A stronger test would have been whether the various sounds produced could be correctly classified by humans without the models present for comparison". "We have no evidence that (Wikie) thinks she is greeting someone in the morning and saying 'hello'".

Though the recordings are not flawless, they are recognizable, including when she says, "Amy", the name of her trainer. They weren't ideal imitations, but they were certainly recognizable, the study authors reported.

Wikie was a quick study. She didn't always make flawless copies - as you can hear in the audio above - but the sounds were still recognizable, both by blinded independent assessors and by sound file analysis.

Orcas are not the only masters of mimicry in the animal kingdom.

Whales and dolphins can actually learn how to produce a sound by hearing it, the BBC reports.

Wikie's success takes the number non-human mammal species capable of imitating human speech to four. Researchers say it sheds light on how killer whales are able to develop pod-specific dialects, and to communicate cooperative strategies that can be employed while hunting.

"Koshik mainly seems to be using these vocalizations as a way of bonding with people, rather than for their meaning", Stoeger-Horwath said.

In the trial, Wilkie was first trained to copy three familiar sounds made by her three-year-old calf Moana.

The charity's director Elisa Allen told Sky News: "How deeply ironic that this research, which speaks volumes of the emotional intelligence of orcas, was conducted in a marine park's cement cell, where they're imprisoned and denied everything that's natural and important to them in order to make money from tourists".

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