Blast-induced neurotrauma in whales

Neurosci Res. 2003 Jul;46(3):377-86. doi: 10.1016/s0168-0102(03)00101-9.


A majority of investigations on primary blast injuries have focused on gas-containing organs, while the likelihood of blast-induced neurotrauma remains underrated. In Norway minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) are hunted using small fishing boats rigged with harpoon guns, which fire harpoons tipped with a grenade containing a charge of 30-g penthrite. The grenade detonates 60-70 cm inside the animal. The present study was undertaken to characterize the neuropathological changes caused by the penthrite blast and evaluate its role in the loss of consciousness and death in hunted whales. The study included 37 minke whales that were examined shipboard. The brains were later subjected to gross and light microscopy examination. The results showed that intra-body detonation of the grenade in near vicinity of the brain resulted in trauma similar to severe traumatic brain injury associated with a direct blow to the head. Detonation in more distant areas of the body resulted in injuries resembling acceleration-induced diffuse traumatic brain injury. The authors conclude that even if several vital organs were fatally injured in most whales, the neurotrauma induced by the blast-generated pressure waves were the primary cause for the immediate or very rapid loss of consciousness and death.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blast Injuries / classification
  • Blast Injuries / pathology*
  • Brain
  • Brain Injuries / classification
  • Brain Injuries / etiology
  • Brain Injuries / pathology*
  • Motor Neurons / pathology
  • Myelin Sheath / pathology
  • Organ Size
  • Skull Fractures
  • Staining and Labeling
  • Whales*