A killer whale living in captivity has surprised scientists by allegedly learning to "speak" human words through its blowhole.

Wikie, a 16-year-old orca living in Mainland in Antibes, France, is heard mimicking words including "hello" and counting "one, two, three". Although the noises sound like parrot-like squawks or shrill whistles, most can be clearly understood.

Scientists leading the research now believe that Wikie may be able to have basic "conversations" with humans one day.

"Yes, it's conceivable. 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,'" said Dr Jose Abramson, from the Complutense de Madrid University in Spain.

Abramson, who led the research, warned about "imposing" human concepts on animals.

"But you have to be careful about imposing our human concepts on animals. We will gain more if we try to understand the natural way each species communicates in its environment than if we try to teach a human language," he said, according to The Mirror.

The research into Wikie's speaking skills took place at the orca's home two years ago. The female orca, who was born in captivity and has two sons, learned to copy sounds and words. Wikie was taught several human words and phrases, including "ah-ah," "hello," "bye-bye," "Amy" and "one, two, three".

The killer whale was partially immersed with its blowhole exposed to the air when it "spoke". Scientists used speech recognition software to test how well Wikie performed.

Wikie the killer whale
Wikie (R), a killer whale, swims with her calf in Marineland aquatic park in Antibes, southeastern France, 12 December 2013. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard