Vocal mimicry is rare in the animal kingdom—but here are a few creatures that have mastered it.
PUBLISHED JANUARY 31, 2018Toddlers are expert imitators, repeating everything you say whether you want them to or not. But tiny humans aren’t the only ones who can imitate words.
In a new study, scientists report a captive orca (killer whale) can mimic the sounds of human voices.
The team worked with a trained 14-year-old female killer whale named Wikie, which lives at Marineland Aquarium in Antibes, France. Through a series of experiments, Wikie revealed she could copy unique sounds made by whales and people—sometimes on the first try. The English words included "hello," "bye bye," and "one two three."
The results, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggest that orcas learn how to vocalize from imitating other whales—similar to how babies learn to talk from adults. (Read how a jungle cat mimics a monkey to lure its prey.)
Vocal imitation in the animal kingdom is already a rarity, and imitations of human speech even more so. Researchers believe the feat requires not only the appropriate vocal machinery, but also a strong social affiliation with people.