Shaking Lambs to Death!

Neurological changes in a lamb model of non-accidental head injury (the shaken baby syndrome)
J.W. Finnie, P.C. Blumbergs, J Manavis, R.J. Turner, S. Helps, R. Vink, R.W. Byard, G. Chidlow, B. Sandoz, J. Dutschke and R.W.G. Anderson 2012


"Shaken baby syndrome" has long been a trait of domestic violence cases but has been the subject of debate. South Australian researchers have shaken anaesthetised lambs to death in an attempt to prove whether shaking alone is sufficient to produce brain injury and mortality or whether additional head impact is required.

The Experiment


Nine anaesthetised lambs were grasped under the axilla (underarm; or underleg in the case of quadrupeds) and “vigorously shaken with sufficient force to snap the head back and forth onto the chest.” “[T]here was also considerable lateral and rotational head movement. Each lamb was shaken in this manner 10 times of 30 seconds duration over a 30 minute period.” The lambs remained under anaesthesia for six hours whilst in the sphinx position.

During the experiment, three of the lambs (of a lesser body weight) died unexpectedly. The remaining lambs (of a higher body weight) were killed after six hours and left overnight. The next day, brains, spinal cord and both eyes were collected for examination.


The results of this study showed that shaking a lamb caused death in the case of lower body weight animals and that higher body weight animals survived six hours later until they were killed. The work was supported by the NHMRC


  • Was this research actually necessary when common sense dictates that we should NOT shake babies?
  • How can neurological dysfunction of a lamb be compared with a human baby, particularly if the surviving lambs were killed after six hours, disallowing for long-term observation and monitoring?
  • What alternatives were considered for this experiment? (brain scans of suspected human victims?)
  • Why would tax payers money be wasted on seeking information already known (previous studies were quoted in the paper)?


What the experts say

'I am a veterinarian and PhD student researching animal cruelty and domestic violence. I was horrified to read of the experiments involving lambs being shaken to death to investigate how child abuse affects human babies. It is disturbing that this was approved by two animal ethics committees, funded by the NHMRC and published in a scientific journal. There is a major need for funding to be applied to development of non-lethal, non-animal methods of research.'

Dr Catherine Tiplady BVSc B App Sci (Hons 1), veterinarian

What can you do?

Write to:

Please write to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), asking them to stop funding animal experiments with your taxpayer dollars, and to instead fund research that is relevant to human health:

Prof. Warwick Anderson

Chief Executive Officer


GPO Box 1421

Canberra, ACT 2601


Lodge a complaint form at

And please write to the following to express your disappointment at such useless research:

Prof Warren Bebbington

Vice-Chancellor & President

The University of Adelaide, SA 5005


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