Marine animals VS the bends

Scuba divers learn about the dangers of getting the bends early on in their training, but is it possible for marine diving animals to get the bends as well?


Marine animals that dive have more in common with free divers than with scuba divers-they don’t bring a tank of air down with them, they get their air from the surface and bring it with them in their lungs.  As with free divers, there is less of a risk of the bends  just because the dives are shorter than Scuba Dives…but its not impossible for free divers to get the bends…is it for animals?

Free divers who make frequent and deep dives are more susceptible to the bends than other free divers. Marine animals dive to MUCH deeper depths than humans do, and they do it with greater ease.

I breath air, so I gotta surface sometime!
I breath air, so I gotta surface sometime!

Animals have a remarkable body functions when they dive. Like humans, their heart rate slows, and blood flow is directed toward the most crucial working bits (the brain, for instance).  But they do more-their lungs can actually COLLAPSE under depth pressure.

This does something awesome-It prevents extra gas from entering the blood stream.  As you know, too much nitrogen saturation can cause the bends, so this lack of air absorption keeps nitrogen saturation down.  It also leaves a supply of air for the swim back to the surface.

So yeah, it’s much LESS LIKELY for a marine animal to get the bends, but it’s not impossible.  Animals have been found deceased from the bends, primarily in water that is colder, suggesting that animals that need more blood flow to keep warmth are more susceptible.  But another depressing discovery is that animals affected by loud sounds underwater (SONAR for instance) have  suffered from DCS.  Although the reason has not been explicitly discovered, a couple of thoughts are that SONAR disorients the animals and it surfaces too quickly (which scuba divers know is a HUGE no no).

In conclusion: diving animals are physically capable of getting the bends. Physiologically, these animals take preventative measures to avoid it.  For instance, dolphins have been found to make decompression dives that are shallower after spending time at depth doing activities like hunting and eating.  Whales have been recorded surfacing slower after deeper dives. But human noise pollution in the ocean (which is at an all time high) may interfere with natural instinct, which suggests that more animals than ever will suffer.

Just a reminder, always surface slowly! slower than your slowest bubble, divers.



What is the deepest diving breath hold animal?





Cuvier Beaked Whales have been recorded at depths of  6,230 feet, for up to 85 minutes at a time. WOW

Blainville Beaked Whale (Not a Cuvier, my apologies for being misleading with my visual aid)
Blainville Beaked Whale (Not a Cuvier, my apologies for being misleading with my visual aid)

2 thoughts on “Marine animals VS the bends

    1. Thank you for commenting Madeline! I read that as well. Dolphins do decompression dives to work out the nitrogen, but they can’t if they are beached! it’s all very interesting. Animals deal with gas absorption somewhat differently than people and we’re just learning how. Very fascinating stuff

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