Killer whale learns to mimicing words

Feb 01, 2018, 00:34
Killer whale learns to mimicing words

A killer whale that can mimic words such as "hello" and "bye bye" is thought to be the first of its kind to copy human speech.

A team of worldwide researchers have taught a female orca whale to imitate human speech, documenting what is considered to be a world first in a paper published Wednesday.

A high-pitched and eerie voice uttering the name "Amy" is quite clear in the audio released by the study's researchers.

The project is delightful, showing that killer whales can pick-up and reproduce novel sounds to a striking degree.

She was able to say words like "hello", "Amy", one, two, three and "bye bye".

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Another standout copycat, the lyrebird, mimics not only other animals, but also the sounds of construction equipment and auto horns, demonstrating its prowess in the 2009 documentary series "BBC Earth". A new report shows the finding of researchers attempting to teach killer whales mimic human sounds, and yes, even speak.

Wikie also copied the trainer in saying words like hello and goodbye. The Orca made sounds like a creaking door, a strong raspberry, a wolf and an elephant.

The truly impressive aspect of the results, according to the researchers, is that the morphology of orcas is vastly different than humans, yet they can still produce sounds that mimic our language.

The study was carried out at Marineland Aquarium in Antibes two years ago.

They wrote that the whale they were training and prompting, a 14-year-old female named Wikie, "made recognizable copies" of the sounds she heard from humans and from a young peer, her 3-year-old calf, Moana - "and did so relatively quickly".

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He said: "It's conceivable. if you have labels, descriptions of what things are".

Throughout the study, Wikie's success was first judged by her two trainers and then confirmed from recordings by six independent adjudicators who compared them to the original sound, without knowing which was which. Killer whales, also called orcas, are known for their unique ability to imitate other orcas in their group.

Wikie was given a fish or an affectionate pat when she achieved the sound to reinforce the learning. Previous sessions with Wikie had already trained her to respond to a "do this" command for a fish reward, the study authors reported. Cetacean brains are different, the context for communication varies, and in in the water medium where they evolved sound behaves differently.

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".

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