Captive Orcas Destroy Their Own Teeth from Depression

first_imgStay on target Watch: Dolphin Leaps Feet Away From Unsuspecting SurferWatch: Deep-Sea Octopus ‘Billows Like a Circus Tent’ Cetaceans — a family of oceanic mammals that include dolphins and whales — are notably some of the smartest creatures on the planet. And, it seems, they might be too intelligent to be kept in captivity.A new report on captive orcas has revealed that these massive creatures universally destroy their teeth. They’ll chew on steel or concrete — anything they can. A global team of researchers studying the phenomenon have published their results in the Archives of Oral Biology. It might not sound like such a big deal, but in some cases tooth disease can be fatal, and it’s probably one of the strongest indications yet that orcas and their kin are far too intelligent to be kept in theme parks.“First, whales will ‘chew’ on concrete and steel features of their tanks,” former SeaWorld trainer and co-author of the new study told Gizmodo. “This is a neurotic behavioral ‘stereotypy’ done out of boredom and perhaps to relieve anxiety.”Just under two-thirds of all the whales examined had significant tooth wear because of this behavior. Ventre noted that this is fairly similar to other types of anxiety-relieving behaviors of other captive animals like tigers pacing in their cages.“The other mechanism [of tooth damage]… is a very acute event, happening in literally seconds (not over the lifetime of the animal). This happens when captive killer whales do ‘threat displays’ at each other, usually when vying for dominance. The whales will snap their jaws at each other, usually when a steel gate is between them,” he told Gizmodo.“I have personally found teeth fragments on the bottom of Shamu Stadium in Orlando,” he added.The researchers looked at hundreds of photos that were taken from public areas of parks during visits while the orcas were “opportunistically” moving into view. Each animal was also identified by two experts in the field. Each and every animal studied had dental damage.This is complicated in particular because of the nature of dental surgery in cetaceans. Root canals, for example, are common, but they can’t be filled in the same way. The gaps in the teeth are left open and flushed out daily with chemical washes. If they aren’t cleaned, they could develop into an abscess which can kill the animal. And surgery is often necessary because if nothing is done when the tooth is cracked or damaged, the orca could also develop an abscess and die. The problem, of course,  is that a drilled tooth is a lot weaker than a natural one and far more likely to fracture, requiring additional and more extensive care.“Managers and owners of the theme parks should immediately release animal health and dental records so that the zoo and research communities can be better informed of the causes and consequences of dental pathologies in captive orca,” John Jett co-author of the paper told Gizmodo. “Our report is revealing and it’s not something the theme park industry can dismiss, because the proof is there for people to observe themselves.”It’s a bit of an open secret that SeaWorld’s animals are poorly treated, and this just adds to growing mound of evidence. Orcas just aren’t meant to be kept captive and holding them in tanks, it seems, causes the same sorts of anxious and self-destructive behaviors any creature — even humans — develop when they’re confined.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.last_img

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