A team of researchers decided to undertake a close analysis of captive orcas and their teeth, and the results were extremely worrying. They found a big number of mammals which experienced serious trouble with their dentition, raising some serious concerns regarding the conditions the animals are kept in, and how their situation can be improved.
Tooth damage is incredibly common among captive orcas
Killer whales have 48 big teeth in their mouth, and struggling with severe pain even in one tooth can be troublesome. Unfortunately, this is not a rare case among them. A recent study, published in the journal Archives of Oral Biology, revealed how each individual studied from a colony of 29 captive orcas had problems with their teeth.
The problems were not necessarily easy, so the study should raise awareness among trainers to be more careful with captive orcas. About 65 percent of the examined specimens had damage on their teeth ranging from moderate to severe. This happened mostly became they came to chew on concrete or other hard materials.
Even if they receive treatment, the whales remain at risk of infection
Also, about 61 percent of the captive orcas have received a treatment called pulpotomy. This process consists of drilling holes in the teeth of the whales, and extracting the pulpy tissue kept inside. However, unlike humans, orcas don’t usually have the remaining hole filled up, it usually remains open. The animal has this hole flushed every day with several chemicals to keep it clean, but infections can still occur.
Most captive orcas have to struggle with damage teeth, which also represent one of the main causes of mortality among them. Many specimens have been observed while biting on steel gates and breaking their teeth, and damaged jaws are often used as post-mortem identification methods.
Apart from being exposed to the infection risk, captive orcas with drilled teeth have one more disadvantage. Since they need their dentition to be flushed every day, they are less likely to get released back in the wild. Therefore, whale trainers and caregivers should be made aware of the real dangers of tooth decay on captive orcas.
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