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It is the first scientific demonstration of an orca mimicking human words, which also included "Amy" - the name of Wikie's handler - "Bye-Bye", and "One-Two-Three". This 16-year-old female orca imitates human sound.

Their newly-published research suggests whales' ability to imitate sounds helps them communicate in the wild.

Whales have great communication skills. Griffin was not involved in the recent study. The dialect includes calls that are unique to themselves.

Scientists tested a 14-year-old killer whale named Wikie at the Marineland Aquarium in France.

The trainer gave Wikie a fish to eat or patted her with love to reinforce learning.

"That is what makes it even more impressive - even though the morphology [of orcas] is so different, they can still produce a sound that comes close to what another species, in this case us, can produce", said Call. A similar process was done for the second round, but with all human sounds.

To determine whether the original sounds and Wikie's versions matched, the researchers asked human judges to decide, and then ran computer algorithms to provide a more objective assessment of the similarities. Her two trainers judged her success and then confirmed the final conclusion. Overall, the imitations were not as clear as one would expect from a parrot, but they were recognizable.

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Wikie was a quick study. "Humans obviously are good at it but, interestingly, the mammals that can do best are marine mammals".

Orcas are not the only masters of mimicry in the animal kingdom.

A trainer works with Wikie (left) alongside the orca's calf, Moana. Killer whales have previously been observed mimicking other marine animals like the whistle of the sea dolphins and barks of the sea lion.

"History will record that in the second decade of the third millennium, a killer whale uttered the word "hello" to a human," Luke Rendell, Lecturer in Biology at the University of St Andrews, which also assisted in the study. Researchers suspected this was the case, but hadn't gathered enough evidence of orcas learning and mimicking sounds.

Wikie is not the first animal to have managed the feat of producing human sounds: dolphins, elephants, parrots, orangutans and even beluga whales have all been captured mimicking our utterances, although they use a range of physical mechanisms to us to do so.

"Koshik mainly seems to be using these vocalizations as a way of bonding with people, rather than for their meaning", Stoeger-Horwath said. According to the research team, the discovery of orcas can say "hello", "bye-bye" and "one-two-three' is helpful in studying different pods of savage killer whales that ended up with specific dialects, focusing on the idea that they can be the result of replica between orcas".

The star of this latest study, Wikie had already been trained to respond to a "copy" command as part of previous research into imitative learning in orcas.


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