23. March 2020

Imitation of novel conspecific and human speech sounds in the killer whale (Orcinus orca) - José Francisco Zamorano Abramson


Seminar Room, Wohllebengasse 12-14 / Ground Floor

José Francisco Zamorano Abramson , Department of Psychobiology, Complutense University in Madrid.

Vocal imitation is a hallmark of human spoken language, which, along with other advanced cognitive skills, has fuelled the evolution of human culture. Comparative evidence has revealed that although the ability to copy sounds from conspecifics is mostly uniquely human among primates, a few distantly related taxa of birds and mammals have also independently evolved this capacity. Remarkably, field observations of killer whales have documented the existence of group-differentiated vocal dialects that are often referred to as traditions or cultures and are hypothesized to be acquired non-genetically. In this talk I will present experimental evidence in the abilities of a killer whale to imitate novel sounds uttered by conspecific (vocal imitative learning) and human models (vocal mimicry) and discuss whether is a plausible mechanism underlying the complexity of vocal traditions in wild orcas.