A STUDY BY THE OCEANOGRÀFIC SHOWS, FOR THE FIRST TIME, THAT SEA ANIMALS MAY SUFFER DECOMPRESSION SICKNESS

May 4, 2014

The discovery won the First Conservation Award during its presentation in the 34thAnnual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation, held in New Orleans
A STUDY BY THE OCEANOGRÀFIC SHOWS, FOR THE FIRST TIME, THAT SEA ANIMALS MAY SUFFER DECOMPRESSION SICKNESS

According to a study by the Oceanogràfic of the City of Arts and Sciences, and led by Daniel García and José Luis Crespo, two of our veterinarians, it has been proven for the first time, that marine creatures may suffer the decompression sickness, a condition similar to the one a diver may experience when he/she has not performed the appropriate decompression stops. Those species were supposed to have evolved over millions of years to avoid that problem. The project has been made possible thanks to collaboration with the Department of Infrastructures, Territory and Environment of the Valencia Regional Government as well as the help of the fishermen.


A couple of years ago, technicians of the Oceanogràfic noted that some loggerhead turtles admitted in the ARCA del Mar to be treated, after having accidentally been catch by fishermen, showed signs compatible with gas embolism or decompression sickness. In addition to proving, for the first time, that a sea animal may have that syndrome, marine turtles affected were saved giving them hyperbaric therapy.

Symptoms presented by the turtles recovered at the Oceanogràfic had already appeared in cetaceans, with a consistent weight of evidence, after some military exercises in the Canary Islands and other parts of the world. However, it was not possible to prove it conclusively as the definitive “proof “is obtained giving a live animal a therapy in a hyperbaric chamber and observing if clinical signs caused by the formation of gas bubbles in the blood and tissues disappear. Thesis virtually impossible in cetaceans, as far as their size and the severity of the process causes death of the animals before they can be assisted by vets.


In the case of turtles, the advantage is they are extremely tough and much smaller than a cetacean, reason for which they could arrive alive to the Oceanogràfic’s facilities and be properly treated by veterinarians. The scientific community, in spite of having conducted many studies in this area since the end of the 1960s, considered that this syndrome could not happen in diving vertebrates; hence this discovery marks a major paradigm shift when it comes to better understand the diving physiology of those animals.

The findings of the Oceanogràfic’s veterinarians has won the Conservation Award during their presentation in the 34thAnnual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation, held in New Orleans and this edition attracted more than 700 attendees from 70 countries. This new achievement involves a reappraisal of present intervention protocols as well as estimates about the impact of fisheries on sea turtle populations at global level. Strong research groups and highly significant agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States and prestigious Universities from United States, Europe, Australia or Japan attend this Annual Symposium.

The following objective of this study is to check whether this process takes also place in other regions of the globe and find what measures can be taken to prevent or minimize it, to the extent possible. Following the presentation of results of the study in the Symposium, different international organizations have contacted the Oceanogràfic to cooperate and establish conservation strategies to preserve these endangered animals.