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Wikie the Killer Whale Has Learned How to Mimic Human Speech, According to Scientists

Dünzl\ullstein bild via Getty Images

Scientists have announced that a killer whale has successfully been able to replicate human sounds, according a recently published study in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a scientific journal.

Wikie, a 14-year-old female orca from Marineland Aquarium in Antibes, France, has been taught by researchers to mimic various phrases, and has so far seemingly mastered "hello," "bye bye," and her trainer's name, "Amy."




Already a well-trained whale from previous research, Wikie was the ideal candidate for scientists in their quest to see how capable whales are of imitating whales in the wild.

Researchers have recorded Wikie saying some of the various phrases she's learned, along with other noises, like a creaking door.

The feat is particularly impressive given that whales make sounds through their blowholes. So, while the sounds aren't exact, they weren't expected to be. "We were not expecting it to be perfect," Dr. Jose Abramson of the Complutense University of Madrid says in the study's report. "But we were surprised by how close it was."

Listen for yourself:



While most primates besides humans haven't been successful at imitating sounds of other species, certain marine mammals like beluga whales and bottlenose dolphins have been known to mimic sounds they have heard in the wild.

Various Killer whale groups are also known to have "dialects," and have been documented imitating each other in the wild. And, according to Abramson, "They have even been known to imitate bottlenose dolphins and sea lions."



It's still unclear to scientists why these animals mimic each other. But scientists theorize that it could be a hunting technique used in tricking other animals, or even a special skill to show off to a potential mate.

But researchers are excited by the possibilities demonstrated by Wikie thus far.

"The subject's matching accuracy is all the more remarkable as she was able to accomplish it in response to sounds presented in-air and not in-water, the species' usual medium for acoustic communication," the study says. "It is conceivable that our data represent a conservative estimate of the killer whale's capacity for vocal imitation."

Many on Twitter were quick to joke about the news:





While some animal activists didn't find it to be a laughing matter:




It even inspired the hashtag "#FreeWikie" to start trending on Twitter:






They have a point...

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H/T: Twitter, The Independent, Telegraph