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).
High-pitched, eerie and yet distinct, the sound of a voice calling the name "Amy" is unmistakable. As part of the trial, the killer whale was asked to mimic never-before-heard sounds made by other orcas with different dialects from different family groups.
"Wikie succeeded in copying all sounds regardless of whether they were produced by a model of the same species, either live or through a speaker, or by a human model", Complutense University of Madrid (link in Spanish) said in a statement.
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As you listen to the full sequence of sounds in the link above you're likely to experience wonder, curiosity, and amusement - it's a challenge to form words through a blowhole after all and the less than successful attempts sound like noises that could have been made by eight year old kids at a sleepover. The orca could also imitate a wolf's howl, an elephant's trumpeting, and the sounds of a creaking door and a "raspberry".
Scientists recently learned that Orcas are capable of mimicking human speech. This is thought to be the first of its kind to copy human speech by a whale.
In the wild, it has been found that different killer whale pods use unique vocal dialects.
Wikie copied a trainer at Marineland Aquarium in Antibes, France.
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"You can not 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.
Orcas can say "hello", "bye-bye" and "one-two-three", while the voice doesn't make a flawless mimicry, but sounds impressively identifiable.
Wilkie's sounds were analyzed first, by human judges, and then using computer analysis. Call explained that dolphins and beluga whales have been known to copy sounds from other species while some birds, like parrots for example, are known to mimic sounds.
During the research study, Wikie was trained to become familiar with unknown sounds.
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The charity's director Elisa Allen told Sky News: "How deeply ironic that this research, which speaks volumes of the emotional intelligence of orcas, was conducted in a marine park's cement cell, where they're imprisoned and denied everything that's natural and important to them in order to make money from tourists".