Fears of Abuse Heighten as Killer Whale Speaks

Fears of Abuse Heighten as Killer Whale Speaks PHOTOGRAPH: James Hills/Pixabay under Creative Commons |

Wikie, a 14-year-old orca in the custody of the Marineland Aquarium in Antibes, France, amazed scientists and people around the world because she learns to mimic human speech. She could now say “hello,” bye bye,” count one to three, and say the name “Amy.”

Wikie’s linguistic ability is a breakthrough in science because orcas’ vocal anatomy is very different from that of humans. “One of the main things that fired the evolution of human intelligence is the ability to have social learning, to imitate, and to have culture. So if you find that other species have also the capacity for social learning, and of complex social learning that could be imitation or teaching, you expect a lot of flexibility in that species,” Jose Abramson of the Complutense University in Madrid who experimented on Wikie explained to AFP.

Here are recordings of Wikie’s voice:

Wikie’s story captured the hearts of many people across the globe except those of animal rights advocate. Her breakthrough abilities did not sit well with them as they fear that more and more orcas will be captivated to undergo same experiment. The watch dogs were one in saying that these mammals would be made to serve the growing animal tourism.

ORCA, an institution aiming to protect dolphins and whales against captivity, said that the experiment conducted on Wikie was disheartening as it is another form of unnecessary imprisonment. In a statement, the group highlighted that observing killer whales in the wild can yield similar findings. Large mammals should not be contained in small space, the group added.

PETA had long since been calling out Marineland Aquarium in Antibes for housing orcas for the purpose of tourism. Even before Wikie’s present popularity, she was included among the number of orcas that PETA wanted to free.

The organization said that the park is a clear demonstration of neglect and abuse against orcas. The park made the mammals swim in routines instead of a “free style” which should be normal among their kind. The clearly stressed animals vomited, chewed on metal cage bars, damaged their teeth and at worse, bang their heads against the concrete walls as a result of the enclosed environment

In its argument against the Marineland Aquarium, PETA highlighted the case of Valentin’s mother who died decades before the maximum life expectancy of female orcas. Valentin was just four-months old when he lost his mother.

Here are other statements from animal rights advocates regarding Wikie that were taken verbatim from their interviews with Business Insider:

“Teaching a captive orca to make sounds like a human is neither scientific nor humane. It is a circus act and a distraction from the issue of captivity.  All so they can spend the rest of their shortened lives in small concrete tanks doing meaningless experiments and doing repetitive tricks to entertain humans.”  – Mark J Palmer, associate director at the Earth Island Institute

“How deeply ironic that this research, which speaks volumes of the emotional intelligence of orcas, was conducted in a marine park’s cement cell, where they’re imprisoned and denied everything that’s natural and important to them in order to make money from tourists… If we had the intelligence to understand her own sophisticated language, we would hear her calling to be free.” – Elisa Allen, the director of PETA

“She is certainly further proof that these are highly intelligent mammals whose captivity in marine parks in the twenty-first century should come to an end.” – Claire Bass, the UK Director of Humane Society International

“We hope that this exciting new understanding about orcas does not end up fuelling the use of these majestic, intelligent animals in the entertainment industry.” Dr Neil D’Cruze, a global wildlife advisor at World Animal Protection