Friday, November 6, 2009

Our Orca Makes a visit to the Orcadontist

A volunteer sent me an e-mail with the subject line "Orcadontist". Several other volunteers thought it was brilliant and perfectly suited for this week's workshop and I agree!

This week Libby, several devoted volunteers and myself created a set of 46 false teeth for our orca skeleton. These false teeth or "orca-dentures" (another clever term toss around) will be on display in the mouth of our articulated orca skeleton due to be on display later this spring. Why false teeth instead of real ones? It turns out killer whale teeth, when dried out, become very frail. Pieces can begin to flake off and even shatter. Also, returning the teeth to NOAA allows them to be studied in further detail. Although we know "Our Whale" is a mature female, the exact age has yet to be determined; also further knowledge about her diet can be learned through teeth analysis.

photo by: David Plude

We jump started the week with Step 1- Creating tooth molds. Making a perfect mold requires skills in mathematics, combined with the ability to work with clay and most importantly a steady finger. We divided into two groups. One group was responsible for mixing a 1:10 ratio of silicone goop and catalyst, while the other group built clay pedestals for our teeth.

The final step in making the mold requires one volunteer to place a firm and steady finger on the very tip of the tooth, while another volunteer gently pours the "mold goop" until the tooth is completely submerged.

photo by: David Plude

By the time we reached the next step we had an article in the local paper and had become professional mold makers! Step 2-Teeth casting. Once our molds had set for the required 24 hour period we began the task of removing the teeth from the molds. Once teeth were removed we put on our mad scientist gear (goggles and gloves of course) and headed outside. The chemicals being used to create our casts were toxic and ventilation was a must!

photos by: Nathan Trimble

Lucky for us the epoxy used for casting only needed to sit for 30 minutes. It was great to see the results of our work so quickly. Every single mold created nearly identical casts! Results prove what great volunteers we had this week at the workshop.

By Friday we reached our final step. Step 3- Teeth painting. Painting teeth was a change of pace from the rest of the week. It allowed us to express ourselves artistically and also just enjoy talking with one another around the table.

By the end of the afternoon session Friday we had created 46 false teeth for "Our Orca". The work done this week was flawless! Several observers have already looked at the teeth and replied, "wait those aren't the real teeth? They look so real".

I want to thank everyone who came and helped out this week. The Port Townsend Marine Science Center really does have amazing, passionate and devoted volunteers! Thanks for feeding me your knowledge and welcoming me into your community.

What can I say, I've got the orca fever!

Heather, Orca Project Coordinator


  1. That is one clever term you coined there mate! If you don't mind, I'm gonna have that term posted on the wall of my dentist jersey city nj. I reckon that would fit best under the Dental Tidbits section. Good job!

  2. Orcadentures, eh? That is so funny! I plan to use that when I go to the mount pleasant dentist over the weekend.

  3. Those are the biggest and meanest-looking dentures I've ever seen. I have to wonder though how they plan to put it in the mouth of something as big as an elephant that eats Great Whites for dinner.

  4. How nice. Teaching people knowledge within the dentistry field. My dentist from dentist tucson also did the same thing to me while he was doing his procedures.

  5. Indeed. Scary looking teeth. Imagine being chewed by one of those. I would die instantly. Nice photos by the way!

  6. Those huge teeth scares me. But it looks cool in a way too! I can imagine us humans having big teeth like that. It would be cool and funny at the same time.


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