by Graham Pierrepoint
All pet owners talk to their cats, dogs, and birds – and while some may have full conversations with their furry, feathered and scaly friends, getting a response beyond more than your average barks and purrs has all but been fantasy. What would our pets say to us if they could speak our language? Will we be able to have deep and meaningful conversations with animals in centuries to come? Who’s to say, honestly – but beyond this speculation, it seems that an unlikely animal who can directly mimic human speech has emerged thanks to a French aquarium. The animal in question? A killer whale.
14-year-old Wilkie has grabbed various headlines and the attention of animal lovers across the continent and the globe this week as it seems that she is able to directly mimic human speech – perhaps in a similar way to parroting – as researchers have been able to effectively encourage the sea mammal to copy words uttered such as ‘hello’ and ‘bye bye’. Wilkie’s fame has reached viral status through video sharing on social media, and she has been able to repeat sounds and words she’s never heard before (within a relatively impressive seventeen tries). She even copied ‘hello’ and counting to three on her first try.
Watch: ▶ Listen to an orca say ‘hello’ and ‘Amy’
Wilkie, believe it or not, is not the first animal on record who has been able to copy human speech and respond directly – but her incredible ability to mimic may be an indication of the sort of dialect that killer whales operate with in the wild – a socially-learned language that exists to help them find each other. This appears to be the first-ever case of a killer whale having been tested in controlled conditions – as their ability to mimic has been measured before, but not on such an incredible scale.
While mammals mimicking speech may be rare, each occasion is rather special – will animals be able to effectively cross-communicate with us in future? Beyond dog obedience and certain birds able to mimic us back, of course – who knows what the future holds for human-animal relations? Who knows – we may even unlock more mysteries of nature in the years to come by holding conversations – however, for now, we should marvel at the fact that a whale such as Wilkie possesses such an amazing ability – it’s not every day you see a killer whale speaking back to you!