Scientists now think they know why whales beach themselves

Whales are literally being scared to death (Getty)
Whales are literally being scared to death (Getty)

Scientists believe they might have unravelled the secret of why whales beach themselves – and it’s to do with a painful condition which also afflicts human divers.

Scientists now believe that sonar used by ships causes such stress in the animals that they interrupt their natural diving pattern – giving themselves ‘the bends’.

‘The bends’ is a painful condition where nitrogen bubbles accumulate in the blood, and afflicts human divers if they surface too quickly.

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Autopsies of beached whales have shown that they too can suffer from the bends.

Researchers now believe that mid-frequency active sonar (MFAS) used to detect submarines may ‘panic’ whales, in particular beaked whales.

Lead author Yara Bernaldo de Quiros, a researcher at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in Spain said, ‘In the presence of sonar they are stressed and swim vigorously away from the sound source, changing their diving pattern.’

‘The stress response, in other words, overrides the diving response, which makes the animals accumulate nitrogen.

‘It’s like an adrenaline shot.’

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