On June 1st of this year, Marineland Antibes celebrated orca Wikie’s birthday by instructing her to beach so that staff could pose with her for a photo. Despite Wikie turning 15 years old, the captive-born Icelandic orca has already produced two assets for the French entertainment park.
According to 52 Orcas, when Wikie was only eight years old, she "became the youngest orca to be artificially inseminated...in a collaboration between Marineland [Antibes] and SeaWorld. The resulting offspring did not survive." In March 2011, however, Wikie did successfully give birth to Moana - Wikie was nine years old.
Just two years and eight months later, when Wikie was still only twelve years old, she produced a second calf. Keijo was born in November 2013 and is believed to be inbred, having reportedly been sired by Wikie's recently deceased half-brother.
In the wild, orca do not typically give birth to their first calf until they are around 14 years of age and they usually only produce one calf every three or more years. Free-ranging orca are also known to rely on their social groups to help raise their young.
At Marineland Antibes, Wikie does not have a normal social group and she is still a youngster herself. Her half-brother Valentin died last year during the time when the orca tanks at Marineland Antibes were flooded with mud and Valentin's mother Freya died just four months before her son. Wikie is now the only remaining female at the entertainment park, kept in a tank with her two male offspring and Inouk, her only surviving brother.
Despite SeaWorld announcing the end of its captive orca breeding programme, Marineland Antibes has said it will continue. Given that SeaWorld's orca are now unavailable and all of Marineland Antibes' own orca are related, it remains unclear at this time which individuals Marineland Antibes will use in its breeding programme going forward. There are, however, rumours that Wikie is already pregnant again. And if this is true, it is even more concerning, for both Wikie and her unborn calf, that Marineland Antibes has instructed this 4,500lb orca to beach herself for a photograph.
Read The Orca of Marineland Antibes to find out more about the entertainment park's captive orca, both past and present, and visit the Marineland Antibes Tweetsheet to help tell their stories.
Wikie (top) & Wikie with Moana (bottom) - all photos © Orca Aware