Of course. Of course. The Guardian reveals that orcas can use human speech when it suits them:
New research reveals that orcas are able to imitate human speech, in some cases at the first attempt, saying words such as “hello”, “one, two” and “bye bye”.
The study also shows that the creatures are able to copy unfamiliar sounds produced by other orcas – including a sound similar to blowing a raspberry.
“We wanted to see how flexible a killer whale can be in copying sounds,” said Josep Call, professor in evolutionary origins of mind at the University of St Andrews and a co-author of the study. “We thought what would be really convincing is to present them with something that is not in their repertoire – and in this case ‘hello’ [is] not what a killer whale would say.”
Writing in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, researchers from institutions in Germany, UK, Spain and Chile, describe how they carried out the latest research with Wikie, a 14-year-old female orca living in an aquarium in France. She had previously been trained to copy actions performed by another orca when given a human gesture.
After first brushing up Wikie’s grasp of the “copy” command, she was trained to parrot three familiar orca sounds made by her three-year old calf Moana.
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.
Finally, Wikie was exposed to a human making three of the orca sounds, as well as six human sounds, including “hello”, “Amy”, “ah ha”, “one, two” and “bye bye”.
“You cannot pick a word that is very complicated because then I think you are asking too much – we wanted things that were short but were also distinctive,” said Call.
Throughout the study, Wikie’s success was first judged by her two trainers and then confirmed from recordings by six independent adjudicators who compared them to the original sound, without knowing which was which.
The team found that Wikie was often quickly able to copy the sounds, whether from an orca or a human, with all of the novel noises mimicked within 17 trials. What’s more, two human utterances and all of the human-produced orca sounds were managed on the first attempt – although only one human sound – “hello” – was correctly produced more than 50% of the time on subsequent trials.