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Science. 2004 Dec 24;306(5705):2215.

Cumulative sperm whale bone damage and the bends.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA.


Diving mosasaurs, plesiosaurs, and humans develop dysbaric osteonecrosis from end-artery nitrogen embolism ("the bends") in certain bones. Sixteen sperm whales from calves to large adults showed a size-related development of osteonecrosis in chevron and rib bone articulations, deltoid crests, and nasal bones. Occurrence in animals from the Pacific and Atlantic oceans over 111 years made a pathophysiological diagnosis of dysbarism most likely. Decompression avoidance therefore may constrain diving behavior. This suggests why some deep-diving mammals show periodic shallow-depth activity and why gas emboli are found in animals driven to surface precipitously by acoustic stressors such as mid-frequency sonar systems.

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