Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Talking Orca

31 January 2018

Categories: Homepage News, Marine Campaign News, Zoo Check Campaign News

The first captive orca has been trained to ‘talk’ but what is she really saying?

The world of talking  animals has always been a novelty for many people, the latest being none other than a ‘talking’ orca. The individual, named Wikie, is a 16 year old female who resides at Marineland Antibes in France. News of Wikie’s ability to ‘speak’ is one that has swiftly circulated in the media , but why? Is it more than just novelty? Does the training undertaken by Marineland to have a ‘conversation’ with Wikie provide any value?

Born Free is quite clear – it does not.

Whilst Wikie is certainly intelligent enough to copy human sounds, at the end of the day this is just another trained behaviour. Wikie does not understand what these new sounds mean and she is certainly not having a ‘conversation’ with her trainers.  It seems to us to be the sort of self-indulgent research to capture headlines but delivers little or nothing of any real value.

Put simply, it seems a tremendous waste of time and resources to train Wikie to make new sounds which are not in her natural repertoire.

What is of substantially greater value is the work undertaken by Canadian research NGO OrcaLab ( which, for over 40 years, has documented the dialects of wild orca pods, passing through Puget sound, to the north of Vancouver.

Orcalab’s work has provided the most profound insights to date into the physical, social and communicative secrets of orca society.

In fact  it was OrcaLab’s extraordinary understanding of wild orca that ensured a young orca named Springer was reunited with her family instead of being taken into captivity.

In 2002, after Springer was found alone in waters off the coast of Vancouver, her dialect was matched to that of a pod of orcas known to frequent the Puget Sound area. She underwent rehabilitation there until she was able to successfully re-join her family and, subsequently, gave birth to two calves who now face the prospect of living a wild and free life – unlike Wikie who seems destined to spend the rest fo her days in an artificial, concrete environment, a million times smaller than her natural home range.

Hard on the heels of the non-news story of Wikie, there is more significant and depressing news from France related to the announcement on Monday the 29th January that the French Council of State has over-turned a ban on the breeding of captive orcas and dolphins in France. The ban had been originally announced in May 2017 by the French Minister of Environment, Segolene Royal, but was over-turned on grounds of ‘irregular consultation.’

This is extremely disappointing, given that a ban on breeding had established the only viable way  to phase out the keeping of captive whales and dolphins in the country. The previous decree had also included a condition that all facilities expand their pools by 150%.The latest announcement is, therefore, a retrograde step meaning that marine parks in France will no longer need to make even this most basic of improvements to enhance the welfare of the animals they exploit.

Born Free’s  response to a ‘talking’ orca is the same as it is to a non-talking one – orca do not, and never have, belonged in a barren captive environment for human entertainment and this latest ‘research’ does nothing to convince us otherwise.

What we should now ask ourselves is; if Wikie could talk, what would she really say to us? Set me free?

You can adopt Springer and support Orcalab here

photo (C) Marineland

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