Meet Wikie, the killer whale who learned to "talk" through its nose

"Talking" killer whale

LONDON -- We already knew whales talked to each other, and we knew that different pods have different dialects. But we didn't know they could speak like us.

That's the claim of researchers who have been working with a chatty orca named Wikie at a marine park in southern France. The conversations were part of a study published by the prestigious journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 

Well, not really "conversations," says researcher Josep Call.  

Female orca Wikie swims with her calf bo
Female orca Wikie swims with her calf Valery Hache / AFP/Getty Images

"What they are doing is they are learning to produce a new sound that is not in their natural repertoire. That doesn't mean that they are engaging in conversation," he said. "That's a separate issue."

Not conversing, maybe, but what about math, or name calling? Wikie can imitate "one, two, three," or "Amy," the name of Wikie's handler. What's also remarkable is that orcas make the sounds not through their mouths, but through their noses.

"They don't have vocal folds," said Jose Abramson, another researcher. "They really make their sounds with their blowhole."

One thing the whales haven't learned to say? "Give me another fish," although that's what they appear to mean. 

  • Mark Phillips
    Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips is CBS News senior foreign correspondent, based in London.