Tag Archives: lobster

Lobsters, octopuses and crabs recognized as “sentient” in the UK

Credit: Flickr.

Lobsters and other shellfish served in restaurants are often boiled alive — an excruciating process carried out because once the lobster is dead it releases a lot of toxic bacteria. Cooking the lobster alive therefore minimizes the chance of food poisoning. Besides, lobsters don’t have a brain and can’t feel pain, right?

Wrong. A massive review of over 300 previously published studies found there is strong evidence that at least some invertebrates are sentient. On the heels of these findings, the UK government officially updated an animal welfare law recognizing decapods and cephalopods — which include crabs, lobsters, shrimp, prawns, and crayfish, as well as octopuses, squids, and cuttlefish — as capable of “sentience”.

Sentience refers to “the capacity to have feelings, such as feelings of pain, pleasure, hunger, thirst, warmth, joy, comfort, and excitement.” Previously, the British animal welfare bill already recognized all animals with a backbone as sentient beings.

Sentience is not exactly the same as consciousness, but the two are closely related because feelings represent the most basic sense of “conscious”. For instance, studies show that lobsters become highly stressed during the catching, handling, and transport phases, arriving either very weak or dying at factories. Both decapods like lobsters and cephalopods like octopuses show they can not only feel pain but remember painful or threatening objects or situations and take steps to avoid them.

Although lobsters and other decapods don’t have a brain, at least not in the familiar human-like sense, they do have a complex nervous system that includes nociceptive receptors that signal pain and opioid receptors that respond to morphine.

These latest updates to UK legislation, however, will not affect any current practices in the fishing and restaurant industries — not yet at least. It is very likely that inhuman slaughtering and catching practices for these animals will be eventually banned. Some of the recommendations in the review for animal welfare protection policies in the future include banning the declawing of crabs and inhumane slaughtering methods like live boiling and dismemberment.

Banning these inhumane practices wouldn’t be a premiere — boiling crustaceans alive is illegal in countries like Switzerland and New Zealand.

“The amendment will also help remove a major inconsistency: octopuses and other cephalopods have been protected in science for years, but have not received any protection outside science until now. One way the UK can lead on animal welfare is by protecting these invertebrate animals that humans have often completely disregarded,” said Dr. Jonathan Birth, Associate Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science and lead author of the government-commissioned independent review.

“The Animal Welfare Sentience Bill provides a crucial assurance that animal wellbeing is rightly considered when developing new laws. The science is now clear that crustaceans and mollusks can feel pain and therefore it is only right they are covered by this vital piece of legislation,” said Animal Welfare Minister Lord Goldsmith.

Lobster’s tough underbelly could inspire next generation of highly flexible body armor

Credit: Pixabay.

Lobsters and other crustaceans are covered in a thick carapace that shields them against predators and general danger. But if you’ve ever flipped a lobster on its back, you might have noticed how the underside of the tail is covered in segments connected by a membrane. According to MIT researchers, this membrane is surprisingly tough, enabling the lobster to scrape against the jagged seafloor without injuring itself. It’s also highly flexible allowing the tail to move freely, making it a great inspiration for a new kind of body armor, particularly for mobile areas such as elbows and knees.

Soft but tough

Ideas for interesting new research often arise from the most unexpected places. Ming Guo, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, was once having a lobster dinner when he noticed that the belly’s transparent membrane was difficult to chew. He wondered why and soon found out that no one was entirely sure.

So Guo and colleagues took it upon themselves to investigate the unusual properties of the material. They cut the membrane into very thin slices, each of which went through a series of experiments. Some slices were left in a small oven to dry before researchers measured their weight. This analysis showed that about 90% of the lobster’s membrane is water, making it a hydrogel.

Meanwhile, other samples were kept in a saline solution that mimicked the water found in an ocean environment. These samples were subjected to mechanical tests, which stretched the membrane with precisely controlled forces. The membrane was floppy and easily stretchable until it was elongated to twice its initial length, at which point the material stiffened and become tougher and tougher. This was surprising, seeing how most hydrogels get softer the more you stretch them. Guo thinks that this strain-stiffening behavior allows the lobster to move freely when it has to while allowing it to stiffen and protect itself in times of peril.

Lobsters are known for scraping against abrasive rocks and sand. When researchers used a scalpel to scratch the membrane samples, they found that it could still stretch equally far even when cutting through half its thickness. A rubber composite with similar properties would break under the same conditions.

Using electron microscopy, the MIT researchers zoomed in on the membrane to understand what made it so resilient. What they found was a structure resembling plywood, with each membrane being comprised of thousands of layers of chitin fibers. All the straw-like fibers are orientated at precisely the same 36-degree angle offset from the layer of fibers above.

“When you rotate the angle of fibers, layer by layer, you have good strength in all directions,” Guo says. “People have been using this structure in dry materials for defect tolerance. But this is the first time it’s been seen in a natural hydrogel.”

One riddle that Guo and colleagues are still trying to answer is how the fibers are guided into such a layered architecture. Once they understand the process, the researchers hope to mimic it to generate synthetic microstructures with similar properties. One application would involve a flexible body armor, but soft robotics and tissue engineering might find such a hydrogel appealing.

With such sophisticated hardware at its disposal, it’s no wonder that lobsters have been so successful.

“We think this membrane structure could be a very important reason for why lobsters have been living for more than 100 million years on Earth,” Guo says. “Somehow, this fracture tolerance has really helped them in their evolution.”

The findings were published in the Acta Materialia.

It will be illegal to boil lobsters alive in Switzerland

Swiss chefs will have to find more humane ways to cook lobsters. Officially, as of March, it will be illegal to boil lobsters alive in Switzerland. Instead, they should be stunned first. The decision was made after more and more evidence kept piling up supporting the fact that lobsters can indeed feel pain.

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

Local lawmakers voted an article stating “the practice of plunging live lobsters into boiling water, which is common in restaurants, is no longer permitted,” as part of a wider overhaul of the nation’s animal-protection law.

The Swiss take animal rights very seriously, having many laws in place that look after the physical and psychological well-being of animals, wildlife and pets alike. Some laws might even look silly to some, like the fact that it’s illegal to own just one guinea pig or parrot. Such animals are considered victims of abuse if they don’t regularly interact with others of their species. But for the Swiss, it’s a way to ensure an ethical, compassionate behavior towards animals.

Once the law comes into force, only after the lobster’s brain has been destroyed either with an electric shock or “mechanically” can the animal be boiled.

An urban myth responsible for a lot of suffering

In 2013, British researchers concluded shellfish, like crabs or lobsters, can feel pain.

This raised quite a few questions, as crabs are typically boiled alive. Since the crustaceans have a very primitive central nervous system, it has always been thought that they do not experience pain. The panic and struggle crabs experience when dived in boiled water has always been attributed to a reflex behavior, rather than pain-induced self-preservation.

The team led by Bob Elwood, an animal behavior researcher at the Queen’s University Belfast, devised two clever experiments that showed how crustaceans feel pain.

The scientists took 90 crabs and put them in a tank with two dark shelters. After most crabs selected their shelter of choice, one of the shelters was electrically charged. The scientists pulled out the crabs from the tank and after some rest inserted them back in. Most stuck with what they knew best, returning to the shelter they had chosen the first time around, only this time some unfortunate enough to choose the electrified shelter got shocked. When introduced to the tank for the third time, however, the vast majority of shocked crabs now went to the alternative safe shelter. Those not shocked continued to use their preferred shelter. This, says Elwood, strongly suggests that they learned to hate the shock.

In the second experiment, scientists presented crabs with two types of shell, one of which the animals are known to prefer, and gave them shocks when they chose the favored one. Whenever they were presented with a new shell, even the kind which they didn’t prefer, they chose it over the first one. This yet again suggests pain aversion.

“On a philosophical point, it is impossible to demonstrate absolutely that an animal experiences pain,” lead researcher Bob Elwood of the Queen’s School of Biological Sciences, was quoted as saying in a press release. “However, various criteria have been suggested regarding what we would expect if pain were to be experienced. The research at Queen’s has tested those criteria and the data is consistent with the idea of pain. Thus, we conclude that there is a strong probability of pain and the need to consider the welfare of these animals.”

According to professor Elwood, the most pressing concern are not domestic cooks and resturants but rather major food processing plants where animals are routinely dismembered before being killed. He believes crustaceans should be labeled with relevant welfare information so consumers make more informed choices.

Besides addressing cooking methods, the Swiss law also outlines new guidelines on transporting the animals from the oceans to, ultimately, your dinner table. According to the new law, “live crustaceans, including the lobster, may no longer be transported on ice or in ice water,” say the rules adopted by the government on Wednesday. “Aquatic species must always be kept in their natural environment.”

The new laws in the Alpine country also crack down on illegal puppy farms and automatic devices that punish dogs for barking. Hopefully, other countries will soon follow suit.

If you really enjoy a nice lobster dinner but would like to know what’s the most humane to kill them, the Australian RSPCA has a guide.

boiled crab feel pain

Crabs and other shellfish feel pain. Opens ethical discussion

boiled crab feel painA new study from researchers at Queen’s University Belfast, UK, found that indeed shellfish, like crabs or lobsters that are typically cooked alive in horrid conditions, feel pain as well. The findings raise significant ethical discussions, warning the food and fish industry of its ill ways of killing live seafood.

“On a philosophical point, it is impossible to demonstrate absolutely that an animal experiences pain,” researcher Bob Elwood of the Queen’s School of Biological Sciences, was quoted as saying in a press release. “However, various criteria have been suggested regarding what we would expect if pain were to be experienced. The research at Queen’s has tested those criteria and the data is consistent with the idea of pain. Thus, we conclude that there is a strong probability of pain and the need to consider the welfare of these animals.”

Crabs are typically boiled alive in a tank, however since the crustaceans have a very primitive central nervous system, it has always been thought that they do not experience pain. The panic and struggle crabs experience when dived in boiled water has always been attributed to a reflex behavior, not at all to pain-induced self preservation.

“In contrast to mammals, crustaceans are given little or no protection as the presumption is that they cannot experience pain. Our research suggests otherwise,” Professor Elwood said.

“More consideration of the treatment of these animals is needed as a potentially very large problem is being ignored.”

To distinguish between reflex and actual pain the researchers devised a simple, but ingenious experiment. The scientists took 90 crabs and put them in a tank with two dark shelters. After most crabs selected their shelter of choice, one of the shelters was electrically charged. The scientists pulled out the crabs from the tank and after some rest inserted them back. Most stuck with what they knew best, returning to the shelter they had chosen first time around, where those that had been shocked on first choice again experienced a shock. When introduced to the tank for the third time, however, the vast majority of shocked crabs now went to the alternative safe shelter. Those not shocked continued to use their preferred shelter.

“Having experienced two rounds of shocks the crabs learned to avoid the shelter where they received the shock,” Professor Elwood said.

“They were willing to give up their hideaway in order to avoid the source of their probable pain.”

With this in mind, crabs, lobsters and other shellfish and crustaceans may experience the world more like us than we might have thought. Findings were reported in a paper published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

via Discovery

This image released by the New England Aquarium shows a one-pound female lobster, known as a "split," that was caught by a Massachusetts fisherman last week and arrived at the aquarium in Boston, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. Officials say such rare Halloween coloration is estimated to occur once in every 50 million lobsters. (AP Photo/New England Aquarium, Emily Bauernseind)

Half-black, half-orange lobster discovered and on display, just in time for Halloween

I swear this isn’t some practical joke for Halloween. Massachusetts fisherman recently caught a highly peculiar lobster with a genetic anomaly which caused it to have one half colored in black, and the other in orange. According to the New England Aquarium, this kind of  coloring isn’t entirely unheard of, but it happens once in every 50 million lobsters.

This image released by the New England Aquarium shows a one-pound female lobster, known as a "split," that was caught by a Massachusetts fisherman last week and arrived at the aquarium in Boston, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. Officials say such rare Halloween coloration is estimated to occur once in every 50 million lobsters. (AP Photo/New England Aquarium, Emily Bauernseind)

Splits, which are lobsters with colors split down the middle, have been caught in Maine, Rhode Island and Nova Scotia over the last decade. Scientists believe this is the result of a complete cellular split when a lobster egg is fertilised. Whatever’s the case, the female lobster just had human curiosity for oddity to thank, otherwise it would’ve become acquainted with the steaming pot by now.

This image released by the New England Aquarium shows a one-pound female lobster, known as a "split," that was caught by a Massachusetts fisherman last week and arrived at the aquarium in Boston Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. Officials say such rare Halloween coloration is estimated to occur once in every 50 million lobsters. (AP Photo/New England Aquarium, Emily Bauernseind)

The lobster is expected to go on public display next month, so be sure not to miss it if you’re in the vicinity.