Killer whale says 'hello' and 'bye bye'

A killer whale that mimics the words "hello" and "bye bye" and some other words, is said to be the first of its kind to copy human speech.

The female was trained to "speak" a handful of human words by making it copy a trainer at a marine park in France.

The animal can also mimic the name "Amy" and "one, two, three".

Whales and dolphins are among the animal species other than humans that can learn to produce a novel sound just by hearing it.

According to Dr Josep Call of the University of St Andrews, a co-researcher on the study, the ability is very rare in mammals.

"Humans obviously are good at it... Interestingly, the mammals that can do best are marine mammals," BBC reported.

The researchers set out to find out whether killer whales had the ability to learn new vocalisations by imitating others and studied a female named Wikie at Marineland Aquarium in Antibes, France.

She was taught to speak human words through her blowhole and can mimic words such as hello and Amy, and can count one, two, three, using squawks and shrill whistles.

Killer whales live in groups with unique vocal "dialects" and may copy other members of their kind in the wild,  although no tests have been carried out.

The research, published Wednesday, in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggests that whales could be learning vocal patterns from each other in the wild.

This fits with the observations of researchers in the field who found groups of whales with "vocal dialects that are often referred to as traditions or cultures," the researchers write. "Our results lend support to the hypothesis that the vocal variants observed in natural populations of this species can be socially learned by imitation."