New Delhi: Saying 'hello' to Wikie, a 14-year-old killer whale in France, might actually get you a response.
The orca, a resident of the Marineland aquarium in the city of Antibes, has successfully mimicked human speech.
Researchers got the marine animal to squeak out convincing imitations of various words, including 'hello', 'Amy' and 'bye bye'.
While we have often witnessed birds like parrots and mynahs imitating human sounds and speech, only a few mammals have been documented doing the same, including a zoo elephant in South Korea.
During previous studies, Wikie had already been trained to respond to commands like 'copy' or 'do that'. But, this time the researchers introduced her to sounds she had never heard or uttered before – some orca and some human – while also utilizing response-training.
She did well, making "recognizable copies" of all the sounds within 17 tries, the researchers reported Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The orca got two of the human sounds right on her very first attempt: "hello" and "one, two, three," the Washington Post reported.
According to the Washington Post, the international team of researchers say that Wikie's skills may shed light on how each wild killer whale pod fashions its own distinct dialect – a tribal language of sorts that scientists suspect is socially learned.
Orcas had previously been observed mimicking sea lion and dolphin sounds, but the authors say this study is the first to test their ability in a controlled experiment. And Wikie's performance, they say, shows that vocal imitation may be one secret to killer whale communication.