Say ‘hi’ to talking orcas
Killer whales have been known to mimic the clicks of dolphins and the barks of sea lions—and now they’ve added human speech to their repertoire. To test the aquatic mammal’s vocal abilities, scientists in France worked with a captive 14-year-old female orca named Wikie, who had already been taught a gesture commanding her to “copy” her trainer’s actions, reports TheGuardian.com. Wikie was asked to repeat human words, including “hello,” “bye-bye,” “one, two, three,” and “Amy.” She said “hello” and “one, two, three” on her first attempt, but other words took longer to master. The feat was especially impressive because unlike humans, who use their larynx, tongue, and lips to speak, orcas make sounds by pushing air through their blowholes. “Even though the morphology [of orcas] is so different,” says study co-author Josep Call, “they can still produce a sound that comes close to what another species, in this case us, can produce.” The research suggests that killer whales might learn vocal patterns from one another in the wild, which could explain why different pods have their own distinct dialects.