Recently a wildlife veterinarian, Heather Rally, who works for PETA recently visited SeaWorld’s San Antonio park. She was there to take a look at its orcas and saw severe dental trauma in the cetaceans and sea lions at risk of blindness.
One big issue was the terrible state of the orcas’ teeth. Captive orcas are already at risk for dental trauma — bored and stressed, they often begin gnawing on the edges of their tanks — but Rally said she was alarmed by the frequency and severity of the dental trauma she witnessed.
“Every single orca that I observed had significant wearing on their teeth, specifically on the lower mandible. They start chewing on their tanks, as a result and stress … as soon as they start doing that they start to traumatize their teeth.”
The damage is much more than cosmetic. When the orcas, bored by captivity, begin to chew on the hard parts of their tanks, they fracture their teeth. The fractures expose the dental pulp, the living tissue within their teeth. Not only is this painful, but the fractures act as a “direct portal” for bacteria to enter the bloodstream — and can lead to heart problems, pneumonia, sepsis and death.
As a result, SeaWorld vets perform a “root canal” of sorts to clean out the pulp of the tooth. For the rest of their lives, the orcas have to undergo daily cleanings to keep their teeth fit, Rally said. “It’s not a pleasant experience,” she explained. “It takes a lot of time to train these animals to endure something like this.” Severe dental trauma is very rare in the wild
The cramped tanks also lead to in-fighting between whales, and sometimes gruesome injuries. In the wild, such encounters are very rare because the submissive animal can just swim away. But because SeaWorld houses its orcas in such unnaturally small quarters, tensions can quickly turn violent when they wouldn’t in the wild — leaving the whales at risk.
Some of these injuries have been dire, such as in 2012 when a male named Nakai had his entire lower jaw torn off during a fight with another whale. In 1989, a female named Kandu broke her own jaw and severed an artery when she attacked another whale — she bled to death as her panicked infant calf swam circles around her.
SeaWorld drugs its whales with benzodiazepines to alleviate aggressive behavior, but the aggression does not stop. Former trainers have revealed that the park uses food deprivation to make whales perform, separates infants from mothers and pumps them full of drugs. Orcas also live shorter life spans in captivity than they do in the wild
The DODO: For the Love of Animals is an online news journal