Lobsters Are Increasingly Receiving Legal Protection Around the World
INGRID NEWKIRK FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
At the prompting of a group of New England senators, September 25 has been declared “National Lobster Day.” If this day were intended to celebrate the fascinating attributes of lobsters — like the fact that they can live to be more than 100 years old or that they use complicated signals to explore their surroundings and establish relationships — I’d be all for it. But it isn’t meant to celebrate lobsters — the intent is to celebrate killing them, and that has true “lobster lovers” like me steaming.
Yes, I once ate lobsters — back when they were a “splurge” meal on a special occasion. I think it was at my 20th birthday dinner. I went to a well-known restaurant specializing in lobster. We were drinking wine when the live lobsters were presented to us on a tray at the table so that I could pick out the one I would eat. I remember that he wiggled his antennae at me — all he could do — as I replied, “Broiled, please,” when asked how I wanted my lobster cooked. Perhaps it was because he had tried in his own sad way to communicate (Was it a threat? A plea?) that when I took that first bite of his flesh, it hit me: He had been broiled alive just for my fleeting pleasure. I burst into tears — my birthday evening ruined — and never ate a lobster again.
That was before I learned the likelihood that his back had been split open and that salt and butter had been smeared into the wound before he had been slid under the grill. It was also before I even knew how complicated and sophisticated crustaceans are. For example, lobsters “smell” chemicals in the water with their antennae, and they “taste” with sensory hairs along their legs. Like humans, they have a long childhood and an awkward adolescence, and females carry their eggs around with them for 10 months. They migrate long distances and can travel 100 miles or more each year — assuming that they manage to avoid the millions of traps lying in wait for them. Many don’t survive their most formidable predator, humans, who consume tens of millions of them each year in the United States alone.
Did you ever wonder how lobsters are killed for the lobster rolls that you might pick up at a ball game or roadside stand? A People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) exposé revealed that workers at Linda Bean’s Maine Lobster slaughterhouse — now closed — routinely ripped and tore off the legs, tails and shells of live lobsters and then left them in bins to writhe in pain until they died. After the video footage aired nationwide and public outrage ensued, a lot of people who didn’t think they cared about lobsters downloaded our vegan starter kit.
Contrary to claims made by seafood sellers, marine scientists have determined that lobsters, like all animals, can feel pain. According to invertebrate zoologist Dr. Jaren G. Horsley, “[T]he lobster has a rather sophisticated nervous system that, among other things, allows it to sense actions that will cause it harm. … I think the lobster is in a great deal of pain from being cut open … [and] feels all the pain until its nervous system is destroyed” during cooking.
Anyone who has ever seen lobsters boiled alive knows that when they’re dropped into scalding-hot water, they whip their bodies around wildly and claw at the sides of the pot in a desperate attempt to escape. A recent video that went viral showed a crayfish trying to escape this fate by amputating his own claw. “I let him live,” wrote the person who posted the video. “I already took him home and am raising him in an aquarium.”
In the journal Science, researcher Gordon Gunter described boiling lobsters as “unnecessary torture.”The Swiss government agrees, and in January, it banned boiling lobsters alive without stunning them first. New Zealand has also banned boiling them, as has the Italian province of Reggio Emilia, while Norway and some Australian states include lobsters in animal welfare legislation. Last June, Italy’s highest court ruled that restaurant kitchens must not keep live lobsters on ice because it causes them to suffer unjustifiably. Where is the United States on this issue? Must we lag behind others in recognizing animals’ sentience?
PETA has consulted with many marine biologists about the least cruel way to kill a lobster. The only thing they could agree on is that there really is no humane way to kill these sensitive animals.
This past summer, PETA placed billboards across the country reminding people that lobsters, crabs and other sea animals are “ME, not MEAT.” The reaction in Baltimore, the “crab capital of the country,” was especially strong: While The Baltimore Sun noted that a local eatery’s faux crab cakes were “having a bit of a moment” and had recently made PETA’s list of the top 10 vegan seafood dishes, one “crab shack” was apparently so worried about the effectiveness of our plea that it felt the need to erect a counter billboard touting its “SteaMEd crabs,” which would be cute if there weren’t real suffering involved.
But not everyone is insensitive to crustaceans’ suffering. In a recent skit featuring a giant singing “lobster” that was both hilarious and poignant, Saturday Night Live made a case for sparing lobsters that could have been cribbed straight from a PETA leaflet.
“Why am I condemned to boil alive? When all that I have done is live my life?” laments the “lobster.” “Join in the fight that would give us the right to be free.” Lobster liberation may be coming after all.