A killer whale learning to speak human words is a 'circus act' to distract from the cruelty of her captivity, say animal rights activists

A killer whale learning to speak human words is a 'circus act' to distract from the cruelty of her captivity, say animal rights activists

wikie killer whale


A still of Wikie in Marineland, Antibes, from a video published in March 2017.

  • A killer whale learned how to speak like a human.
  • Wikie, the 16-year-old orca, is believed to be the first of her kind to do so.
  • Protesters say this was only possible due to her inhumane captivity.
  • They said if we could understand Wikie "we would hear her calling to be free."

Wikie, a 16-year-old killer whale in France, made headlines on Wednesday after audio was released showing that she'd learned how to mimic human speech.

But while many were amazed by the sound of an orca recreating words including "hello," "bye bye," and "one, two, three," animal rights activists were furious.

Four animal rights organisations told Business Insider that Wikie's training was cruel and inhumane, and that she should be free rather than in captivity.

Several of them said that her human speech should be interpreted as a cry for freedom rather than a willing interaction with humanity.

Wikie lives at Marineland, an amusement park in Antibes, south of France. She was born there in 2001 and has never lived anywhere else, according to One Voice, an animal rights organisation in France.

Here's how Wikie sounds:

"Neither scientific nor humane"

The Earth Island Institute, a California-based environmental group, and the London-based World Animal Protection also criticised Wikie's performances at Marineland.

Mark J Palmer, an associate director at the Earth Island Institute, told BI that Wikie's story was "a circus act." He said:

"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."

"These orcas are too big, too wide-ranging, and have social bonds that have been ripped apart by 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."

"Imprisoned and denied everything that's natural"

Elisa Allen, the director of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), said it was "deeply ironic" that Wikie is seen as a scientific breakthrough, but remains "imprisoned" at a marine park.

Allen told BI:

"Orcas have always had their own complex means of communicating with each other using a language that humans can't understand, and it's now been shown that in captivity, they try to get our attention by carefully mimicking human speech. [...]

"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.

"And how sad that while the orca Wikie was being studied, all she could do - other than try to get the researchers' attention in a way that humans themselves can't even figure out how to reciprocate - was swim in tight circles in her own diluted waste.

"If we had the intelligence to understand her own sophisticated language, we would hear her calling to be free."

Captivity "should come to an end"

Claire Bass, the UK Director of Humane Society International said that Wikie is "as tragic as she is fascinating."

Bass said: "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."

wikie killer whale antibes

One Voice/YouTube

A still of Wikie in Marineland from a video published in November 2016.

Dr Neil D'Cruze, a global wildlife advisor at World Animal Protection, said the news of the scientific breakthrough was "bittersweet."

He said:

"On the one hand, the finding that orcas can imitate human words excites us. This is evidence of complex communication and learning ability in a species that was previously unknown.

"However, on the other hand, this research was conducted on a captive orca held at Marineland Aquarium in Antibes, France - a place that forces dolphins to perform unnatural behaviour in shows.

"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."

The Marine Conservation Society also tweeted: "Can't they hear it say 'set me free'"?


Business Insider has contacted Marineland in Antibes for comment.