Deep sea diving and cassion workers are at extreme risk from many hazards such as "bends," nitrogen narcosis, and oxygen poisoning when compressed air is absorbed into their bodies, and then decompressed. However, the cuvier's beaked whale can take in a large volume of regular surface air, dive to a depth of 1 mile in a 20-minute descent, then resurface in another 20 minute ascent with none of these lethal effects. To me, the physics is not different. There should be dissolved nitrogen bubbling out of their blood as they decompress, forming embolisms in capillary vessels. There should be lethal concentrations of oxygen being absorbed in their bloodstream during the dive from the surface air they brought down, which is subsequently compressed to ridiculous partial pressures. Is there an explanatory mechanism or precedent?

While I understand we don't have a good many beaked whale cadavers to research, how can the physics of respiration - the dissolving and degasification of elements in our air into blood - somehow be different for deep diving mammals like this?

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    $\begingroup$ They do not breathe compressed air. $\endgroup$ Aug 20, 2020 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ Are you suggesting the wales somehow maintain their air at 1 ATM during a dive? They inhale surface air. That air is contained in their lungs. Their lungs will compress at depth, correct? So, the air that they breathe (not to be confused with inhaling), is compressed air. How can you argue that they do not breathe compressed air? $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Aug 20, 2020 at 15:50
  • $\begingroup$ Absolutely, they inhale at one atmosphere. This is very different from inhaling huge amounts of multiple atmospheric compressed gas into the same lung space while at depth as human divers do $\endgroup$ Aug 20, 2020 at 17:39

1 Answer 1


)This Scientific American article describes the adaptations of whales and other deep diving sea creatures. With regard to whales and seals it says:

Collapse of the lungs forces air away from the alveoli, where gas exchange between the lungs and blood occurs. This blunting of gas exchange is important in the deep diver because it prevents the absorption of nitrogen into the blood and the subsequent development of high blood nitrogen levels.

Instead of relying on oxygen held in their lungs, they store oxygen in their blood and muscle tissues.


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