‘Killer’ toothaches for captive orca – In the News

Captive orca have terrible teeth, mostly caused by chewing concrete and steel tank surfaces, according to research that photographed the mouths of 29 orca kept in captivity by one company in the USA and Spain.

The research team, including New Zealanders, found all 29 whales had some form of damage to their teeth and more than half had “been to the dentist” to have their teeth drilled.

Given the size of an orca’s tooth root, and that the animals have a similar nervous system to humans, the researchers say the injuries are likely very painful and could be seen as a marker of how their health and wellbeing is compromised by being kept in captivity.

Two of the authors were previously employed by the theme park company and photos were taken of the whales during public viewing hours at the facilities.

Orca Research Trust’s Dr Ingrid Visser, a co-author on the study, has studied orca in the wild for decades and said “you just don’t see this type or level of damage in the wild”.

“We know that confining them in tanks is bad for the animals and this research now gives us some hard numbers to illustrate just how their health and welfare is compromised.”

The research was covered by local media, including:

NZ Herald: NZ scientists alarmed at captive orcas’ teeth
Radio NZ: Captive orca suffer killer toothache – study
Newshub: Otago scientist finds captive killer whales suffer toothaches – research