For the first time, whales and seals have been found to suffer from ‘the bends’ – the crippling ‘decompression’ sickness divers suffer when they surface too quickly.
The sickness is caused by nitrogen bubbles forming in the bloodstream when divers move from a high-pressure undersea environment – causing disorientation, pain, skin rashes, and even, in extreme cases, death.
A new study by scientists at the University of St Andrews found evidence for bubbles forming in the bodies of whales and seals – hinting that they suffer, too.
The research also suggests that excessive human noise – such as exposure to military sonar – might disorient whales and seals, leading to them losing their natural defences against the disease.
Lead researcher Dr Sascha Hooker of the University of St Andrews said: ‘Decompression sickness, commonly known as ‘the bends’ is a serious problem for human divers, but the jury has been out as to whether marine mammals could get the bends or if it would be as serious for them. ‘