ANTIBES, France (CBS Local) – Many people go to an aquarium to look at the whales but researchers say one killer whale in France would be happy to have a conversation with you. too. A 14-year-old orca named Wikie has learned to imitate human speech through the use of her blowhole.
The orca, living at the Marineland aquarium in Antibes, France, has copied several phrases like “hello,” “bye-bye,” “one, two, three,” and even people’s names. “We wanted to see how flexible a killer whale can be in copying sounds,” the University of St. Andrews’ Josep Call said, via The Guardian.
According to the tests Wikie took, the amazing mammal successfully copied all of the sounds researchers asked her to mimic within the first 10 tries. Wikie reportedly mastered saying hello on the first attempt.
“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 wrote in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The talkative Wikie is reportedly the first orca to be trained to repeat human sounds. The captive whale is still working her pronunciation however, as the study reports she accurately said “hello” about half of the time and “bye-bye” once every five tries.
Biologists are now working to see if Wikie and other mammals who have learned to mimic human speech actually understand the meaning of the words they’re “saying.” Another study, examining an elephant that learned to speak, concluded that animals use their new-found skill more as a way of bonding with humans rather than actually talking to humans.