by Violet Wallerstein
Killer whales have been recorded imitating human speech. According to the Chicago Tribune, this breakthrough occurred at the Marineland Aquarium in Antibes, France. Wikie, a 14 year old killer whale, has been taught by trainers to say simple words such as “hello” and “one, two.”
CNN explains that this breakthrough is of significance because whales use a different part of their anatomy to make noise. While most of us know that whales are capable of “singing,” they use their nasal passages to make these noises whereas humans use the larynx. This study was done by teaching the whale to imitate noises that are not naturally in the whale vocabulary, demonstrating that this is a learned behavior. Killer whales in the wild live in pods and often have different dialects, but there has always been a debate about whether or not these differences were learned or not.
Parrots, myna birds and elephants have all been able to mimic humans noises, and like these animals, the killer whale shows no signs of understanding what they are saying. However, Josep Call, one of the researchers working on this project, is considering future projects to find out if the whales could potentially understand what they are saying. There may also be more work done to determine if the speech made by Wikie is a unique occurrence or if all killer whales, or even whales in general, hold the ability to recreate human noises.