A prominent animal rights group is aiming to pull the wool from the eyes of Defense Department and Navy officials in an effort to end “gruesome and often deadly” decompression sickness tests on sheep and other animals.

In a letter sent Thursday to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the nonprofit People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals asked the Pentagon’s leader to “end the U.S. Navy’s support of horrific decompression sickness/illness (DCS/DCI) and oxygen toxicity tests on animals.” This follows a similar letter the organization sent to Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro in June.

“The U.S. Navy is literally squeezing the life out of sheep and other animals in crude and painful decompression tests that only serve to leave the U.S. further behind the rest of the world,” Shalin Gala, PETA’s vice president of international laboratory methods, said in a note to Military Times. “PETA is calling on Secretary of Defense Austin to switch to superior, human-relevant research instead of sinking money and animals’ lives into archaic tests.”

The military has a history of using sheep in its research — and for grazing on or near its bases — but this case marks another example advocates cite as to why the Pentagon needs to be wary about using animals in its testing procedures.

The Navy reportedly conducted the tests to learn more about fighting decompression sickness — commonly known as “the bends” — which occurs when bubbles form inside the blood, muscles and organs. This is known to occur when the body ascends from an intensely pressurized environment, such as moving from deep ocean to shallower waters.

During the Navy’s experiments, which took place in San Diego, sheep were put in high-pressure chambers to replicate what naval divers would experience at a deep-sea level, the PETA press release claimed. The sheep were then forced to decompress in the chambers, causing the farm animals to likely experience “crippling joint pain, seizures, nausea, paralysis, vomiting, burning, and deep chest pain,” the initial letter to Del Toro said.

Rear Adm. B.L. Gillingham, the Navy’s surgeon general, responded with his own letter to PETA, writing, “The Navy recognizes the importance of ensuring animal use research is engaged in the most ethical manner possible and shares your goal of replacing animal research models with alternative models.”

”While the Navy pursues every effort to engage in research that does not require animal use, there are still critical areas of study, which remain impossible without the use of animal model research.”

This particular PETA complaint, meanwhile, is not the first time the nonprofit has found itself counting sheep.

In 2010, a petition filed by PETA and other animal rights groups led to a criminal investigation that upended the sea service’s funding of decompression sickness experiments at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the PETA release said.

According to the animal rights group, U.S. allies like France and the U.K. have already ended their decompression tests on animals, adding that research conducted on humans would offer more accurate and informed results.

Observation Post is the Military Times one-stop shop for all things off-duty. Stories may reflect author observations.

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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