Long-lived sperm whales typically develop bone damage resembling that observed in human divers who surface too quickly or dive too frequently, new research indicates. Marine mammals that dive throughout their lives hadn't been known to be susceptible to such a hazard.
Biologists Michael J. Moore and Greg A. Early of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts made their discovery when they examined the museum-housed skeletal remains of 16 sperm whales.
In people, pitting of bones is often a sign of decompression sickness, which scuba divers can develop after experiencing pressure changes that cause bubbles of gas to form in the body. In mild cases, the condition can cause internal damage without producing symptoms. Extremely abrupt decompression can be fatal.
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