Orcas born in captivity are not happy. It is a reality that is impossible to hide, but despite the efforts of different animal organizations, it is something that is not over yet.
Studies focused on what their teeth tell us about them, carried out between the United States and New Zealand, renew the urgent call to free them.
The study, published in the Archives of Oral Biology and developed by scientists from the United States and New Zealand, investigated dental damage in captive killer whales. In the investigation, they deduce that dental damage as a result of oral stereotypies is evident in the captive killer whale, although little research exists on the subject. This study examined associations between dental pathology, sex, facilities, length of captivity, and other factors in captive killer whales. What is alarming is that part of the damage is caused by actions that orcas carry out out of boredom, stress or wanting to escape; like biting hard tank surfaces. These are the terrible consequences:
Malformations from an early age
Through investigations, they found:
- Severe dental damage, which was commonly seen in all captive whale cohorts, with damage beginning early in a whale’s captive life.
- 45% of the whales exhibited “moderate” medium mandibular coronal wear, and an additional 24% exhibited “major” to “extreme” wear.
- More than 61% of mandibular teeth 2 and 3 and 47% of mandibular tooth 4 showed evidence of having undergone the modified pulpotomy procedure.
- Actions such as biting on hard tank surfaces likely contributed to the observed dental pathology.
Most killer whales have jaw damage
The scientists evaluated mandibular and maxillary teeth from dental images of 29 captive killer whales owned by a US-based theme park. Each tooth was scored for coronal wear, wear at or below the gum line, and holes.
Fractured and missing teeth were also observed. Summary statistics describe the distribution and severity of pathologies; Inferential statistics examined how pathologies differ between sexes, between wild-caught orcas and captive orcas, and between captive orcas at four facilities.
Approximately 24% of the whales exhibited “major” to “extreme” mandibular coronal wear, with coronal wear and wear at or below the gum line highly correlated. More than 60% of mandibular teeth 2 and 3 exhibited fractures. Perforations were observed mainly in mandibular anterior teeth, with more than 61% of teeth 2 and 3 showing evidence of having been perforated.
Orcas born in captivity are hundreds of times more prone to harm
The study compared the damage of killer whales captured from the wild and those born in captivity. Those who started life locked up are not more “used to it”, but on the contrary: the damage they suffer is greater.
Four of five killer whales with the highest age-adjusted rates of dental pathology were born in captivity. Various dental pathologies were observed in all whales, with pathologies beginning at a young age.
By releasing the dental and health records of captive whales, the theme park industry finds itself in the crosshairs. Why do we keep subduing animals just to provide entertainment?