The Navy has been tussling with environmentalists for years over a new breed of ultra-loud sonars and how they effect whales.Now, a new Nature study "provides some of the most direct evidence to date that sonars can kill marine mammals.""A team led by Paul Jepson of the Institute of Zoology in London concludes that 14 whale deaths off the Canary Islands last year may have been caused by decompression sickness after the animals shot to the surface to escape sonars during Spanish-led international naval exercises. The team says the sonar appears to have caused gas bubbles to form in the blood, damaging the whales' livers and kidneys.John Hildebrand, with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, tells Nature that "this report has the potential to be the 'smoking gun' on the cause of sonar-related mammal strandings."But, according to Knight-Ridder, other top marine mammal watchers are skeptical. Darlene Ketten, with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute tells the news service unlikely that whales getting decompression sickness seems unlikely."We expect that these animals over 50 million years evolved to avoid problems resulting from diving," Ketten says.

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