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VIDEO: Killer whales can 'talk' as scientists teach orcas to mimic human speech

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Charles Michels
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Scientists have demonstrated for the first time that orcas, also known as killer whales, can mimic human words, including "Amy," "Bye-Bye" and "One-Two-Three."

Wikie, a 14-year-old female killer whale housed at Marineland Aquarium in Antibes, France, was tested by researchers including José Z. Abramson to get her to speak.

Wikie had previously participated in an action imitation study, so she already knew the "copy" command, giving her a leg (or a fin) up when it came to "speaking."

"We found that the subject made recognizable copies of all familiar and novel conspecific and human sounds tested and did so relatively quickly (most during the first 10 trials and three in the first attempt)," the study's abstract reads.

"Our results lend support to the hypothesis that the vocal variants observed in natural populations of this species can be socially learned by imitation.

The capacity for vocal imitation shown in this study may scaffold the natural vocal traditions of killer whales in the wild."

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