Friday, July 13, 2007

Do fish get 'the bends'?

One of the dangers of SCUBA diving is the bends, or decompression sickness, which results from gases (usually nitrogen, but potentially helium or hydrogen) come out of solution and form bubbles upon rapid shift from high to low pressure. These bubbles can cause excruciating pain in the joints (this is where the name 'the bends' comes from) as well as itchiness, shortness of breath and neurological problems.

But what about that delicious PEI lobster stolen from the depths and put on a plane to get to your dinner plate? While most tales of exploding seafood are anecdotal, a small number of studies have shown that fish and other marine life can also suffer from the bends. Biological specimens from the deep ocean have to be brought up slowly (like a diver) or kept pressurized or the drastic change could cause internal bleeding or burst swim bladder. Even catch and release fishermen should be warned. In small-mouth bass, removal from a depth as shallow as 5 metres has caused gas bubble formation and signs of tissue damage, and the survivability of these fish after 'the bends' isn't known. (Dr. Tufts of Queens University and author of the study predicts they'll swim back to the right depth and be fine). And if you're not releasing, but eating instead the stress may affect the taste.


Rob said...

I've reeled up some codfish from not even that deep and their swim bladder is full of gas and comes out of their mouth.
I haven't done a taste test on it however.

Anonymous said...

I've heard that walleye pulled up too quickly from depths greater than 30 feet are succeptible to the same effects.

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I remember when I was receiving scuba diving classes our instructor told us something about decompression sickness because it is always a risk.