Killer whale Wikie has become a marvel in the animal world by learning to mimic human speech. The 16-year-old female orca whale can utter words like 'hello', 'bye bye', and 'Amy', apart from counting to three through her blowhole.
The unique whale resides in a marine park named Marineland Aquarium at France's Antibes. She can utter human-like sounds while being half submerged in the water with her blowhole exposed to air.
Dr. Jose Abramson, lead author of a study on Wikie, says that killer whales often use their blowholes to make noises but Wikie's feat is previously unheard of. Research says that the marine creature might be able to communicate verbally with humans in the future.
Creatures such as dolphins, beluga whales and parrots are known for mimicking human sounds but Wikie is the first killer whale to do so. Other orcas can mimic animal noises of different species, like sea lions and dolphins.
Wikie learned human dialect by copying a trainer at the marine park. In the movie Free Willy, an orca shared a friendly relationship with a human. Perhaps it indicates that orcas are capable of being in close proximity with humans and learning new things from them.
In an audio clip, the orca is seen repeating the trainer's words in an almost human dialect. She says 'hello' and also counts from one to three.
According to study co-author Dr. Josep Call of the University of St Andrews, mammals who can mimic human speech are predominantly aquatic creatures. Wikie, for instance, can blow whistles and raspberries as well.
In the study conducted on Wikie, scientists studied her in captivity to form the conclusion that killer whales might have the capability to learn the vocalizations of other killer whales and even humans.
Although researchers are excited at the possibility of having a human conversation with Wikie in the future, they maintain that the best way to understand animals is to fathom their natural way of communicating within the species.
A few questions related to this development are still unanswered. It is unknown what kind of sounds Wikie can produce while being completely submerged in water. The researchers also do not know whether this ability is special in Wikie or can be found in other killer whales.