The University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) will no longer torment and kill sheep in excruciatingly painful decompression experiments following actions by PETA and Madison-based Alliance for Animals. For decades, the U.S. Navy had funded experiments at UW in which sheep were placed into high-pressure hyperbaric chambers. As a result, the animals suffered the excruciating pain of decompression sickness, called “the bends,” which occurs when bubbles of nitrogen gas form in the blood, muscles, and organs, including the brain.

Nancee_art / CC by 2.0

The experiments and the Navy’s funding of all decompression studies on animals came to an end as a direct result of a criminal investigation that was launched in response to a petition filed by PETA and Alliance for Animals. The petition was filed with Dane County Circuit Court after a local district attorney refused to take action despite acknowledging that experimenters had repeatedly violated a Wisconsin anti-cruelty law that outlaws killing animals by decompression. The judge agreed that the experiments appeared to be illegal and appointed a special prosecutor to investigate and bring charges where appropriate.

Ultimately, the special prosecutor assigned to the case decided not to press charges, saying that the law is ambiguous. But he said the sheep undoubtedly suffered and warned that if any such studies were performed in the future, UW could be held criminally liable. The long-running torturous experiments are now gone for good.