The killer whale or orca is a marine mammal belonging to the oceanic dolphin family. Killer whales are apex predators, as there is no animal that preys on them. They can be found in each of the world’s oceans in a variety of marine environments, from Arctic and Antarctic oceans to tropical seas.
Killer whales are highly social and notable for their complex societies. Only elephants and higher primates, such as humans, live in comparably complex social structures. Killer whales have the second-heaviest brains among marine mammals (after sperm whales, which have the largest brain of any animal). They can be trained in captivity and are often described as intelligent, although defining and measuring “intelligence” is difficult in a species whose environment and behavioral strategies are very different from those of humans.
Like all cetaceans, killer whales depend heavily on underwater sound for orientation, feeding, and communication. They produce three categories of sounds: clicks, whistles, and pulsed calls.
Alexandra Ma reports for Business Insider, Jan. 31, 2018, that Wikie, a 16-year-old female orca at a marine park in Antibes, France, is the first of its kind to mimic human speech.
Wikie has learned how to count to three; say “hello,” “bye bye,” and “Amy” (the name of her trainer); shriek, and blow raspberries. She made these sounds while partially submerged, with her blowhole — the human equivalent of a nose — exposed to the air.
Killer whales typically live in groups in the sea and develop their own dialects. They’re also one of the few animals in the world — alongside dolphins, beluga whales, and parrots — that can mimic the sounds of other creatures, such as dolphins and sea lions. (The Guardian).
Dr. Jose Abramson, who led a scientific study on Wikie, said that Wikie might even be able to hold basic conversations in the future:
“It’s conceivable… if you have labels, descriptions of what things are. It has been done before with a famous grey parrot and dolphins using American sign language; sentences like ‘bring me this object’ or ‘put this object above or below the other.'”
Here’s a video of Wikie saying “hello” and other human words: