Breath-hold Diving: Taravana

Taravana, What is it?

Taravana, a condition first observed by E.R. Cross in 1958, and reported in 1958- is a diving syndrome seen in working Tuamotu Island natives diving the Takatopo Lagoon. The word apparently means ‘to fall crazily’ and is thought to represent decompression illness in these divers. P. Paulev, a Danish naval officer described his own personal experiences with DCS from breath-hold diving in 1965.

More recently, Dr. Robert Wong, in an excellent article in the Journal of the SPUMS, (September 1999) summarizes the information known about the condition and reports two more Australian cases. Decompression illness from breath-hold diving is quite rare but can occur. This is usually seen in divers who are making many deep dives in a short period of time with little surface interval. The symptoms are usually vertigo, nausea and lethargy, paralysis and death. Recompression is the recommended treatment.

Significance to Scuba Divers

Of particular relevance to the sport diver is what happens to the snorkeling breathhold diver who dives during the surface interval between scuba dives. Of particular relevance to the sport diver is what happens to the snorkeling breathhold diver who repeatedly dives during the surface interval between scuba dives. Very little nitrogen is transferred from the alveoli to the blood during one breathhold dive. (Hong in Bove’s Diving Medicine, 1997, p. 67).

Repeated dives alter the off-gassing process as well as taking on more gas and would completely change the dive profiles. Free diving onloads N2, to a small degree, more or less depending upon the depth and time at depth of the dives and this time should be taken into consideration when calculating residual nitrogen. Snorkelers between scuba dives should stay on the surface.

Of Historical Interest

Here is interesting information from Glen Egstrom, Ph.D that I thought very interesting:

“I spent some time in the Tuamotus and worked with some French doctors who studied this problem. The free divers work to depths 150 fsw or more. During the “season” there are incidents of Taravana, which I believe means ‘crazy’. There is a detailed discussion by E.R.Cross in the book ‘Breath-hold Diving’ a proceedings of a workshop in Japan that I had the pleasure to attend in 1965. It is publication 1341 National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council Wash. D.C. 1965. It was not unusual for the natives to hyperventilate for 2 – 10 minutes before descending to depth and staying 30 – 60 seconds up to 2 min. on shell collecting dives. They go down with a lead weight between their feet and leave the weight near the bottom. I dove with a couple of them for nearly a month and even got my depth down to 100. Those were the days, we went on scuba and watched them work in shark infested waters with little of no concern. Paulev, a Danish M.D., also has his paper on DCS following repeated breath-hold dives in a Norwegian submarine escape tank. He bent himself quite badly and made the lecture circuit discussing his exploits. He and I spent quite a bit of time together at the conference and I was struck by his story. Bottom line- there is little doubt that one can sustain serious DCS while breath hold diving but you really must work pretty hard at it.”


Suk-Ki Hong in Breath-hold Diving section of Bove’s ‘Diving Medicine’, p. 69. 1997.

Paulev, P. “DCS following repeated breath-hold dives”. J.Appl. Physiol. 20(5): 1028-1031. 1965.

Edmonds, C. “Diving & Subaquatic Medicine”. 1981.

Cross E.R., Taravana – Diving Syndrome in the Tuamotu diver. In ‘Physiology of breath-hold diving and the ama of Japan.’ National Academy of Science – National Research Council Publication 1341. 1965; 207-219.

Bove, A.A., ‘Diving Medicine’, Taravana

Wong, RM, Taravana Revisited: Decompression Illness After Breath-hold Diving,
SPUMS Journal, Volume 29, No.3, September, 1999


Ernest S. Campbell, M.D., FACS

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