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article imageOp-Ed: Sources hinting new orca calf born at Marineland France is inbred

By Elizabeth Batt     Nov 22, 2013 in Environment
Antibes - Marineland France celebrated the birth of a new orca on Nov. 20, or did they? While a 12-year-old female orca named Wikie definitely delivered a calf, there has been no big announcement of the birth.
Photographs of Wikie's new calf born at Marineland in Antibes France have been circulating across social media for two days.
While the birth is not unexpected given that it is difficult to hide a pregnant orca, Marineland has never "officially" announced Wikie's pregnancy, and as of today, have not "officially" acknowledged the birth or sex of their latest addition. But why has the killer whale's pregnancy and birth remained so low key?
In March 2011, Wikie delivered a calf named Moana. Moana was conceived through artificial insemination and made global news as she was thought to be Europe's first orca to have been conceived via artificial insemination.
According to the UK's Daily Mail newspaper:
The birth followed a decade of work by the French park and American researcher Todd Robeck, from SeaWorld in San Antonio, Texas.
Initially, Marineland announced that Moana was female. This was amended in July 2011, when it was determined that she was in fact a male. Antibes ended up keeping his name which was chosen via a public poll.
Wikie's pregnancy lasted more than 18 months according to the Mail's article. Moana's sire is Ulysses, a male resident at SeaWorld San Diego. SeaWorld notes at its website that killer whale pregnancies at their parks "have ranged from 15.7 to 18 months," so Wikie was definitely pushing maximum gestation.
According to this white paper report authored by marine mammal scientist Dr. Naomi Rose, in some populations, wild female killer whales give birth approximately every five years.
Compare that average with Wikie who has delivered two calves in just 32 months.
This sufficiently concerning fact could alone explain Marineland's reticence in announcing the birth. But according to chatter around the internet, it is more likely that Marineland's low key approach is a result of inbreeding. Rumors are rife that Wikie's pregnancy was not only an accident, but that she bred with a resident orca named Valentin. According to the online database: Ceta-Base.com, Wikie and Valentin are paternal siblings.
In the French forum, 'le forum d'lorque', loosely translated comments query the silence from Antibes. "It is possible that the baby will live a few weeks because of inbreeding?" someone asked. "Because if this is the case it will have to wait until they announce it."
Another poster declared, "I am so happy that the delivery went smoothly! Remains whether this small will stay healthy, but I do not want to take my head with this story of inbreeding for the moment! We'll talk about in due time! Congratulations to Wikie, but also all other orcas Marineland!"
Over at ZooChat.com, "an online community focused on discussion about zoos, animal conservation and nature in general," comments deftly skirted the inbreeding issue and celebrated adding another inbred orca to the gene pool:
On November 20th 2013 a new orca calf was born to second time mother Wikie at Marineland Antibes. Its father is unknown however it is strongly suspected that the father is Wikies half brother, Valentin.
This brings the number of orcas in captivity up to 53, and with the recent addition of 8 wild animals from Russia, along with rescued female Morgan and 2 calves being born sired by unrepresented male Kshamenk this year, the future for these animals in captivity is looking bright.
Several sources from regular park guests and even park trainers have reported that Wikie's pregnancy was an "accident". Trainers inferred that they were unaware that Wikie was cycling again so soon after the birth of Moana. Furthermore, the newborn calf is said to have been conceived by either Valentin or Inouk. Marineland trainers are under the consensus that it is Valentin, given the male orca's strong interest in Wikie.
Inbreeding remains an issue for many of the large parks. Taku, an orca at SeaWorld Orlando, impregnated his own mother Katina. She gave birth to a female calf named Nalani in 2006. As revealed in David Kirby's book: Death at SeaWorld, Nalani has the regrettable distinction of being the world's first fully inbred captive orca.
In June of this year, Loro Parque, a marine mammal park in Tenerife, announced the death of 10-month-old killer whale, Vicky. Vicky was Kohana's second calf after breeding twice with her own uncle. Kohana would reject both of her calves at birth.
As for 12-year-old Wikie, the young female must now nurture both a juvenile and a newborn. If her calf is inbred as suspected, the potential for health complications cannot be ignored. Marineland's lack of fanfare over the entire pregnancy and birth then, seems to follow the norm indicative of standard marine park philosophy. If we don't acknowledge it, then it can't be true.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
More about marineland france, wikie, Orcas, Killer whales, killer whale breeding
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