Talking’ killer whale reveals orcas can learn to mimic human speech
31 January, 2018, 14:05
In 30 trials, the scientists presented Wikie with recordings of unfamiliar sounds and words spoken by trainers, which the whale was then instructed to copy as in-air vocalizations (rather than underwater). You can say that AIs are more intelligent than humans because they win at chess, but that's just one type of cognitive capacity.
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"I think here we have the first evidence that killer whales may be learning sounds by vocal imitation, and this is something that could be the basis of the dialects we observe in the wild - it is plausible", said Call, noting that to further test the idea, trials would have to be carried out with wild orcas.
In fact, an African grey parrot recently garnered headlines by mimicking human speech so accurately that the bird was referenced in a murder trial, allegedly for speaking what may have been its owner's last words before the man was killed.
A pod of killer whales. Scientists used speech recognition software to test how well Wikie performed.
Wikie was then additionally exposed to five orca sounds she had never heard before, including noises resembling a creaking door and the blowing a raspberry.
Scientists leading the research now believe that Wikie may be able to have basic "conversations" with humans one day.
"Killer whales use their blowhole to make noises, nearly like speaking out of your nose, so we were not expecting it to be ideal", said Dr Jose Abramson, a researcher at the Complutense University of Madrid, who led the study.
However Wikie, who lives in a French marine theme park in Antibes, is believed to be the first member of her species to mimic human speech.
Recent studies have offered additional examples of "talking" animals: a beluga whale in San Diego's National Marine Mammal Foundation that could say the word "out", and a zoo elephant in South Korea named Koshik that can say, "hello", "good", "no", "sit down" and "lie down" in Korean.
Wikie was recorded mimicking English words like "hello", "bye bye" and "one two", as well as the name of her trainer, Amy.
"When we tried "hello" and she did the sound. some emotional responses came from the trainers".
Animals that live with people or who are habituated to them through captivity may copy elements of human speech in order to strengthen social bonds, Angela Stoeger-Horwath, a bioacoustician at the University of Vienna and co-author of the elephant study, previously told Live Science.
He added: "We will gain more if we try to understand the natural way each species communicates in its own environment than if we try to teach a human language".
Dr Abramoson said: "Intelligence is a controversial subject and hard to define". Call said that they wanted to see how flexible a killer whale can be in copying sounds.
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