Pathology

Whales, sonar and decompression sickness

Abstract

Arising from: Jepson, P. D. et al. Nature 425, 575–576 (2003); Jepson replies We do not yet know why whales occasionally strand after sonar has been deployed nearby, but such information is important for both naval undersea activities and the protection of marine mammals. Jepson et al. suggest that a peculiar gas-forming disease afflicting some stranded cetaceans could be a type of decompression sickness (DCS) resulting from exposure to mid-range sonar1. However, neither decompression theory nor observation support the existence of a naturally occurring DCS in whales that is characterized by encapsulated, gas-filled cavities in the liver. Although gas-bubble formation may be aggravated by acoustic energy, more rigorous investigation is needed before sonar can be firmly linked to bubble formation in whales.

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Correspondence to Claude A. Piantadosi.

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Piantadosi, C., Thalmann, E. Whales, sonar and decompression sickness. Nature 428, 1–2 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02527a

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