Mark Rylance Urges University of Bristol to End ‘Useless’ Near-Drowning Tests on Animals

Mark Rylance Urges University of Bristol to End ‘Useless’ Near-Drowning Tests on Animals

Bristol – Oscar-winning actor Sir Mark Rylance – who just finished performing in Dr Semmelweis at the Bristol Old Vic – sent a letter to the University of Bristol’s vice-chancellor, Hugh Brady, appealing to him to end the university’s “cruel and useless” forced swim experiments on terrified rats.

“As you are no doubt aware, this test forces rats to experience the fear of drowning. Researchers put the small animals into inescapable beakers of water, in which they have no choice but to paddle frantically as they search for an escape,” writes Rylance.

He goes on to poke holes in the flawed test’s scientific validity.

“The scientists at PETA tell me that these experiments are used in attempts to study human conditions such as depression but that the test is not required or beneficial for producing new antidepressant treatments for humans,” he points out. “This leaves one question: why are these experiments continuing at the University of Bristol?”

The forced swim test has recently been debunked for its use in depression research in a scientific paper initiated by the Home Office, which concluded that the test cannot predict the efficacy of potential new antidepressant drugs, is a poor model of depression, and could even rule out effective new drugs for humans.

It has also been criticised on welfare grounds and because of the irrelevance of the test to humans. Trying to understand the fundamental human biology underlying stress and anxiety by forcing rats to swim in a beaker of water is doing a disservice to those suffering with mental health disorders. Imagine what an exhausting and distressing experience this must be for the animal: spending your life trapped in a cage, then being forced to take part in an experiment that intentionally causes you stress, only to be killed at the end of it.

Following discussions with international PETA affiliates, 15 companies and two universities, including King’s College London, have declared that they don’t intend to use the forced swim test in the future. PETA is calling on the University of Bristol to follow suit. Already, more than 30,000 people – including actor Joanna Lumley and Mayor of West England Dan Norris – have urged the university to take action.

PETA – whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to experiment on” – opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview. The letter is available here. For more information, please visit or follow the group on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.


Jennifer White +44 (0) 20 7837 6327; [email protected]