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Lobsters Don't Actually Love Being Dropped Into Pots Of Boiling Water, After All

By 03.11.14

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I love shellfish of all kinds, and having spent childhood summers near the Chesapeake Bay — Blue Claw Crabs are my absolute favorite. So invariably, people give me sh*t about the so-called “cruelty” of boiling or steaming a creature alive, and my response has always been oh well, crabs and shellfish are basically just giant bugs so who cares.

Well, according to new findings published by The Washington Post, crabs, lobsters and other shellfish actually do experience pain. Researcher Robert Elwood has been working with crabs and prawns for about three decades now, and his findings suggest that being cooked alive, does indeed suck balls:

He started with prawns. After so many years of working with them, he thought he knew what to expect, which was that he would see nothing more than reflex reactions. But to his surprise, when he brushed acetic acid on their antennae, they began grooming the treated antennae with complex, prolonged movements of both front legs. What’s more, the grooming diminished when local anesthetic was applied beforehand.

He then turned to crabs. If he applied a brief electric shock to one part of a hermit crab, it would rub at that spot for extended periods with its claws. Brown crabs rubbed and picked at their wound when a claw was removed, as it is in fisheries. At times the prawns and crabs would contort their limbs into awkward positions to reach the injury. “These are not just reflexes,” Elwood says. “This is prolonged and complicated behavior, which clearly involves the central nervous system.”

He investigated further by placing shore crabs in a brightly lit tank with two shelters. Shore crabs prefer to hide under rocks during the day, so in this situation they should pick a shelter and stay there. But giving some of the crabs a shock inside one of the shelters forced them to venture outside. After only two trials, the crabs that had received shocks were far more likely to switch their choice of shelter. “So there is rapid learning,” Elwood says, “just what you would expect to see from an animal that experienced pain.”

I’m gonna be real, this isn’t going to stop me from eating shellfish whatsoever, but at least dropping them into a pot of boiling water assures a quick death. Unlike a friend of mine — a popular internet writer you’ve probably heard of who wishes to remain anonymous — who once told me that to impress his now wife while they were dating, he bought live lobsters and attempted to cook them for her. Only he didn’t know that you were supposed to drop them in boiling water and instead, put them on the burner in room temperature water and slowly cooked them to death while listening to their horrified lobster screams. So this study probably wasn’t actually all that ground-breaking after all. Just ask the guy who, to this day, still hears the screams of lobsters in his nightmares.

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