Posted by admin | 11.08.2011 | Conservation, Marine Science

Dolphins Beat the Bends

Dolphins share many similarities with us terrestrial mammals. We both breath air, give birth to live young, nurse our offspring, have hair, and are endothermic. One further similarity is that both cetacean and human bodies feel the impacts of diving to depth.

As our scuba participants can tell you, care needs to be taken when diving and especially when ascending. Nitrogen dissolves in the bloodstream with increased pressure. Bubbles can form if a diver ascends too quickly forcing this gas out of solution and inducing what scuba divers call the bends. Despite adapting to a life at sea, dolphins and whales are also susceptible to this off-gassing of supersaturated blood and tissues.

Recent research from scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has provided new insight into dolphin’s ability to recover from events of bubble formation. A study of live stranded dolphins found gas in their internal organs. Nine were unable to recover, two were released and subsequently restranded, and the remaining eleven were released and returned to seemingly normal function – thereby adequately managing the bubbles.

Scientists have found stranded beaked whales whose tissues and blood were riddles with bubbles – many found near naval sonar testing areas. It has been long speculated that acoustic stressors seem to change the normal bubble management of these aquatic mammals. While these stresses may be too extreme to recover from, cetaceans inherent ability to manage bubbles in the blood and tissues could provide insight into further treatment in humans.