, Volume 95, Issue 9, pp 793–801

Decompression syndrome and the evolution of deep diving physiology in the Cetacea

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00114-008-0385-9

Cite this article as:
Beatty, B.L. & Rothschild, B.M. Naturwissenschaften (2008) 95: 793. doi:10.1007/s00114-008-0385-9


Whales repetitively dive deep to feed and should be susceptible to decompression syndrome, though they are not known to suffer the associated pathologies. Avascular osteonecrosis has been recognized as an indicator of diving habits of extinct marine amniotes. Vertebrae of 331 individual modern and 996 fossil whales were subjected to macroscopic and radiographic examination. Avascular osteonecrosis was found in the Oligocene basal odontocetes (Xenorophoidea) and in geologically younger mysticetes, such as Aglaocetus [a sister taxon to Balaenopteridae + (Balaenidae + Eschrichtiidae) clade]. These are considered as early “experiments” in repetitive deep diving, indicating that they independently converged on their similar specialized diving physiologies.


Avascular osteonecrosisBehaviorally induced paleopathologyDiving physiologyCetaceaMysticetiOdontoceti

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.New York College of Osteopathic MedicineOld WestburyUSA
  2. 2.Division of Vertebrate PaleontologyUniversity of Kansas Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research CenterLawrenceUSA
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA
  4. 4.Arthritis Center NEOLawrenceUSA
  5. 5.Northeastern Ohio Universities College of MedicineRootstownUSA
  6. 6.Carnegie Museum of Natural HistoryPittsburghUSA