Researchers at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile recently taught an orca to mimic a few English words–much like you’d teach a parrot–and the results are pretty spectacular to say the least. Not really because of the orca’s ability to mimic its human trainer, however, but more because the killer whale really sounds like it’s just farting with its whale mouth. Seriously, listen to the below video and if you aren’t thoroughly convinced this whale is just blowing mouth farts as a tease, then you don’t know whales. (Unless you’re a whale biologist.)The audio clip of the orca honking its pie hole in such glorious farty fashion comes via Boing Boing; it was disseminated along with a paper in the journal Proceedings of Royal Science B. And while on the surface it seems like this is just a case of whale biologists teaching a whale how to say some words, there’s apparently a lot more going on.
According to the paper’s abstract, the researchers’ aim was to show that “the vocal variants observed in natural populations of this species can be socially learned by imitation.” And that, “The capacity for vocal imitation…may scaffold the natural vocal traditions of killer whales in the wild.” In other words, the researchers wanted to show these whales are capable of developing dialects and passing them on in a non-genetic manner.
As for the experiment itself, it seems unreasonable to call it a rousing success. Even though it’s fantastically mouth-fart filled, a huge portion of the “words” coming out of the whale’s mouth sound like squeaks. Besides that, it’s not clear how important it would be to note that whales pass on dialects non-genetically; that seems a bit superficial compared to the underlying mode of communication they use with each other. We’d need a whale biologist to make that determination.
What are your thoughts on this orca imitating words and farting with its big whale mouth? Let us know in the comments below! (But only if you’re a whale biologist.)
Featured Image: Fox, dewiki / Terabyte
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