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Nature: Military sonar may give whales the bends

From Natalie Pawelski

Cut surface of the liver shows that cavitary lesions have extensively replaced normal tissue.
Cut surface of the liver shows that cavitary lesions have extensively replaced normal tissue.

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(CNN) -- Dozens of whales, dolphins and porpoises have washed up dead on shores around the world after exposure to military sonar. Researchers writing in the journal Nature say they may have found a link.

Scientists examined the bodies of ten beaked whales that died on two beaches in the Canary Islands in September.

The whales began stranding themselves within hours of the use of mid-frequency sonar during Spanish-led international naval exercises.

Paul Jepson of the Zoological Society of London and colleagues found that the whales suffered tissue and organ damage caused by gas bubbles, consistent with rapid decompression and similar to the bends, a sometimes-fatal condition for humans.

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In the same way that gasses dissolved in soda can explode into bubbles when the pressure is suddenly released, gases that build up in a diver's body under the pressure of water can suddenly form dangerous bubbles if the diver surfaces too quickly.

The same condition could plague the dolphins and whales, according to the scientific team.

The sonar may have prompted the whales to shoot to the surface, making them vulnerable to the bends, the researchers said.

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