Whales, sonar and decompression sickness


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.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1

    Jepson, P. D. et al. Nature 425, 575–576 (2003).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Williams, T. M. et al. Science 288, 133–136 (2000).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Houser, D. S., Howard, R. & Ridgway, S. J. Theor. Biol. 213, 183–195 (2001).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Falke, K. J. et al. Science 229, 556–558 (1985).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Kooyman, G. L. & Ponganis, P. J. Annu. Rev. Physiol. 60, 19–32 (1998).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Francis, T. J. R. & Mitchell, S. J. in Bennett and Elliott's Physiology and Medicine of Diving (eds Brubakk, A. O. & Neuman, T. S.) 5th edn 530–556 (Saunders, Philadelphia, 2003).

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Claude A. Piantadosi.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Piantadosi, C., Thalmann, E. Whales, sonar and decompression sickness. Nature 428, 1–2 (2004).

Download citation

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing