Captive Orca Wikie Forced to Mimic Human Speech

It’s already known that parrots, dolphins, orangutans and other animals are able to imitate human sounds, and now a new study has found that orcas can also quickly learn to imitate human speech, as well as unusual sounds produced by other orcas.

Researchers at the University of St. Andrew in Scotland say this discovery will help lead to further understanding of how different pods of orcas in the wild have distinct dialects. “We wanted to see how flexible a killer whale can be in copying sounds,” said professor Josep Call, a co-author of the study.

People around the world have been impressed by a recording of Wikie, a 16-year-old female orca, saying words like “hello,” “bye bye” and “Amy.”

What’s not impressive is that Wikie has spent her entire life in captivity at Marineland in Antibes, France. The largest marine theme park in Europe, Marineland has been criticized in the past by animal welfare groups. The Brigitte Bardot Foundation accused the park of being secretive about the health of its orcas, according to a 2015 BBC story.

That year a 19-year-old orca named Valentin, who was born at the park and was Wikie’s half-brother, died when Marineland was flooded with mud during heavy rainstorms. Four months earlier, his mother, Freya, who’d been captured in the wild, died at the park after a long illness.

The UK-based campaign Orca Aware reported that before Valentin died, the dorsal fin on top of his body was partially collapsed – which is not unusual for orcas in captivity — and he had a pronounced skin condition on his chin. Valentin had behaved aggressively toward trainers on several occasions. He also displayed stress-related symptoms, such as chewing concrete and bumping his head against the walls and gate of his tank.

Wikie has exhibited those same symptoms, according to animal welfare groups. Was it really necessary to subject her to the additional stress of being forced to imitate human speech?

“We’re not really learning much more by doing these studies in captivity,” Dr. Peter Evans, a scientist with the Sea Watch Foundation, told BBC News. “What would be great is if we learned more about how they communicate in the wild together.”

Thanks to the backlash from the disturbing 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” SeaWorld amusement parks in the United States experienced huge drops in attendance and profits. In 2016, the company announced it would end its captive breeding program as well as the “theatrical” killer whale show at SeaWorld San Diego.

France also did the right thing last year by banning the breeding and keeping of dolphins and killer whales in captivity – with the exception, unfortunately, of those that are already in captivity.

What’s even more unfortunate is that the ban was overturned last month. “This is excellent news for our animals and animal parks in France,” said Pascal Picot, managing director at Marineland, which, of course, had appealed the ban.

In response, Wikie said, “No, this is terrible news for animals in animal parks.” (At least that’s what she would want to say.)

Wikie is obviously very intelligent and shouldn’t have to spend her life in a small tank, performing tricks for the entertainment of humans. Please sign and share this petition asking Marineland to free Wikie.

Photo credit: Photographe Autodidacte.

92 comments

Virginia B
Virginia B4 days ago

As I have been saying for a long time, ever since we have been able to film animals in the wild, we have no need to keep them cooped up in zoos. There is no excuse whatever for zoos these days!!

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Debra Tate
Debra Tate5 days ago

Signed

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Chrissie R
Chrissie R8 days ago

You signed on February 3, 2018

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Janis K
Janis K8 days ago

You signed on February 3, 2018

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ANA MARIJA R
ANA MARIJA R9 days ago

no doubt petition xxxxx signed & shared... thank you!

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ANA MARIJA R
ANA MARIJA R9 days ago

Another disgraceful and unnecessary research... i suggest better one - find out why people in 2018. still choose ignorance and cruelty as "entertaiment, research..."

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Angela J
Angela J9 days ago

Thanks

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Brian F
Brian F9 days ago

Petition signed. It is sickening the way these animals are treated. It's long past time that we ban all animal captivity. These animals don't deserve to be imprisoned for life, just to entertain people.

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Kumbakonam R
Kumbakonam R9 days ago

It is quite stupid. Even if the 'researchers' say that they want to find out the 'level of advancement in the vocal capacity in Killer Whales as compared to Homo Sapiens with a developed language' (that is how a paper will be titled!) - it is nonsense. Observing them from innocuous boats (as Payne did long ago), and recording their voices and associated behaviour is a good thing - the rational humans will start respecting these animals for their social skills ... and other attributes, that we question, and dont even want to practice anymore.

The further problem with this nonsense is that these 'researchers/trainers' will be asked by other whale-holders to train their whales too - for entertainment purposes =- all for money these days, isn't it?

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Terry T
Terry T9 days ago

as some animals can't return to the wild, having no foraging skills and other such similar issues I won't push for their release as it could easily be a death sentence.

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