PETA to Navy: Ban the Use of Animals in Cruel Decompression Tests

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Update (April 19, 2024): PETA successfully pushed the U.S. Navy to stop carrying out gruesome decompression experiments on sheep at the University of Wisconsin–Madison up to two years ahead of schedule, following our letter to Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro, sparing sheep the agony of cardiovascular collapse, spinal cord injury, and paralysis.

But the Navy is still carrying out similar grisly experiments on other species, including pigs, and funding other tests at numerous universities around the country. PETA has sent letters to the schools’ leaders and to top Pentagon brass—for our latest one, we teamed up with more than 100 Navy veterans—urging them to sink these wasteful and irrelevant tests. Now, we need your help.

This doomed animal in a hyperbaric chamber is one of the countless rats who University of South Florida experimenter Jay Dean has used to supposedly study oxygen toxicity in humans, even though human-relevant, animal-free methods are widely available.

Please take action below to tell the Navy, the U.S. Department of Defense, and four universities that they should follow the lead of UW-Madison by ending deadly and pointless animal tests in favor of superior, human-relevant, non-animal research methods.

Experimenter Heath Gasier conducts invasive and deadly procedures on mice. He induces seizures in young mice, subjects them to high-pressure oxygen in hyperbaric chambers, uses electric shocks to force them to run on a treadmill, and ultimately gasses them to death. The experiment started in September 2022 and is scheduled to continue through August 2025. It’s bankrolled by the Navy with $844,714 in taxpayer money.
Experimenter Peter Lindholm conducted gruesome tests on rats, paid for by the Navy with more than $1 million in taxpayer funds, aiming to study nitrogen gas uptake and excretion during simulated diving. He subjected the rats to painful and potentially deadly procedures, including locking the animals in pressure chambers, forcing them to inhale radioactive gas, and electroshocking them if they failed to run on treadmills. In addition, he proposed experiments on sheep without proper approval.
Experimenter Stephen Thom has conducted invasive and deadly procedures on more than 2,100 mice in his Navy-funded experiment that involves subjecting the animals to to high pressures, restraining them, applying chemicals to their eyes, using high-pressure chambers, inserting probes into their rectums, performing scalp incisions and skull drilling on them, injecting chemicals into their brains, and ultimately bleeding them to death. The experiment—which is funded with just shy of $1 million in taxpayer money—began in October 2022 and is scheduled to continue through September 2025.
The Navy has commissioned experimenter Jay Dean to conduct invasive, painful, and potentially deadly procedures on rats that aim to mitigate oxygen toxicity in the central nervous system. He induces seizures in the animals, without providing them with pain relief, and implants recording devices in their abdomens with wires placed on their backs and necks and electrodes fixed to their skulls. The rats are ultimately killed. The experiments, paid for with more than $1 million in taxpayer funds, are scheduled to continue through December 2025.

This rat, with drastically different physiology from humans, was locked in a hyperbaric chamber and forced to undergo an agonizing decompression test conducted by University of South Florida experimenter Jay Dean.

Posada-Quintero H.F., Landon C.S., Stavitzski N.M., Dean J.B., Chon K.H. “Seizures Caused by Exposure to Hyperbaric Oxygen in Rats Can Be Predicted by Early Changes in Electrodermal Activity,” Frontiers in Physiology 2022;12:767386. CC BY

In this distressing test, University of South Florida experimenter Jay Dean inserted electrodes into sensitive rats and subjected them to the harrowing conditions of a hyperbaric chamber, even though rats are not biologically accurate stand-ins for humans.

Originally published on September 1, 2022:

The U.S. Navy is squeezing the life out of sheep and other animals in gruesome and often deadly decompression sickness/illness (DCS/DCI) and oxygen toxicity experiments that are as pointless as they are out of step with international standards. Joined by retired Rear Admiral Marion J. Balsam, PETA sent a letter to Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro, urging him to end these tests on animals and switch to superior, human-relevant research. After he failed to respond, PETA sent a letter to his boss, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, urging him to intervene.

During recent tests that involved Navy experimenters at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, Naval Medical Center San Diego in San Diego, and Naval Medical Research Center in Silver Spring, Maryland, sheep were locked in high-pressure chambers and exposed to a significant atmospheric pressure equivalent to what a diver would experience at 257 feet below sea level, where they were left for 31 minutes. The sheep were then forced to decompress and endure “severe DCS,” crippling “joint pains,” “bloating”—which was treated by stomach “puncture”—and “cardiovascular collapse” or “spinal cord injury,” causing “distress or paralysis” and frequently resulting in death. This extremely painful experience is commonly referred to as “the bends” and occurs when bubbles of nitrogen gas form in the blood, muscles, and organs, including the brain. Sheep were then injected with an experimental oxygen-carrying substance that failed to reduce mortality, killed, and dissected.

Other DCS/DCI experiments conducted or funded by the Navy have included additional horrors:

  • Experimenters injected mice with a substance of interest and exposed them to the same atmospheric pressure (the equivalent of nearly 258 feet below sea level)—this time for two full hours—and then forced them to decompress for another two hours before they killed and dissected them.
  • Experimenters implanted radio transmitters into the brains of rats, inserted and sutured electrodes into their torsos, and exposed them to five atmospheres of pressure (the equivalent of about 165 feet below sea level) until the animals began having seizures—then they likely killed them.
  • Experimenters decapitated rats and exposed parts of their brain tissue to high oxygen concentration and pressure.

PETA has caught the Navy conducting these types of experiments before. In 2010, the Navy yanked its funding for DCS/DCI experiments conducted at the University of Wisconsin–Madison as a direct result of a criminal investigation launched in response to a petition filed by PETA and Alliance for Animals.

“[T]he Petitioners’ actions have brought into question the necessity of the continuation of the decompression research. The Department of the Navy has pulled its grant and the research using the sheep has stopped. … There is no doubt that the animal suffers during the period from leaving the chamber until the ultimate injection to euthanize the animal.”
—David Geier, then special prosecutor appointed by Dane County Circuit Court Judge Amy Smith, who was overseeing this case (2010)

However, it appears the Navy has recently resumed its crude testing program.

Foreign Navies Have Ended Decompression Tests on Animals
Continued animal experiments such as these make the Navy an outlier among the navies of our peer nations. France and the U.K. have already scrapped their respective naval DCS/DCI animal testing programs. In 2008, Derek Twigg—who at the time was the U.K. parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Ministry of Defence—wrote the following to Parliament:

“The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has today announced the end of its immediate requirement for testing on live goats as part of its hyperbaric research in support of the MoD’s submarine escape rescue and abandonment system.”
—Derek Twigg, then U.K. parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Ministry of Defence, writing to the U.K. Parliament (February 6, 2008)

Animal Testing Is Pointless
It’s obvious that sheep, mice and rats are not miniature humans. Major anatomical and physiological differences between species make any results obtained through these experiments useless to humans, and Navy brass has even admitted this.

“The impact of physiological differences between species with regard to disease processes … is well recognized throughout the medical research community.”
—Dr. Wayman W. Cheatham, then director of the Navy Medical Research and Development Center, writing to PETA (May 12, 2010)

The Naval Medical Research Center itself has publicly acknowledged the inherent limitations of using animals to predict the effects of DCS/DCI in humans, stating that “animal DCS in many cases is more severe than that in humans and, therefore, appears ‘different’ from the average human case.” Other experts agree. “The problem with these animal experiments is that no animal model can replicate what happens in a human,” diving expert John Lippmann has said.

Animal-Free Research Methods Exist
In vitro studies and reanalysis of existing human-diver data have already yielded promising results that are directly applicable to humans in diving conditions. Machine-learning techniques may also aid in the prediction of symptoms such as seizures during hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and modeling can also improve the performance of dive computers to equip divers in avoiding DCS/DCI. Animals need not die to advance human health.

What You Can Do
Please politely urge the Navy, the U.S. Department of Defense, and four universities to get in line with international standards by ending these deadly and pointless DCS/DCI tests in favor of superior, human-relevant, non-animal research methods.

You can contact university officials with one message—just copy and paste this block of e-mail addresses in the “To” field of your e-mail:

[email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]

You’re welcome to use the following talking points, but putting them in your own words will be more effective:

  • Please immediately stop all U.S. Navy–funded decompression sickness and/or oxygen toxicity tests on all animals at your institution.
  • The navies of France and the U.K. have banned such tests on animals. The U.S. Navy should follow suit.
  • More effective, ethical, and economical animal-free research methods are available.

Then use the form below to contact officials at the Navy and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Erik K.
US Navy
DoD Office
Animal Protections
US Navy

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