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When Being Cooked, Do Live Lobsters Experience Any Pain?

Q: When Being Cooked, Do Live Lobsters Experience Any Pain?

Quick Answer:

Probably yes, they feel discomfort and are prepared to give up something in order to escape it.

When I was a kid, I can still recall that lobsters were cut and steamed despite being alive. All I wanted at that time was the delicacy made from those lobsters. However, after growing up, I can’t stop wondering whether it is too brutal to steam live lobsters.

This issue has been discussed for a very long time. Wikipedia says that the French philosopher René Descartes said that animals do not have consciousness and therefore do not feel pain. However, the scientific community had agreed with the need to treat experimental animals humanely, even though they had to be sacrificed for the purpose of research, or at least to lessen their suffering. All vertebrate experiments now required anesthesia or euthanasia before the knife could be used. However, there is still no set legal limit for invertebrates like shrimp and crabs because it is unknown whether they would experience pain.

Animals experience “nociception” because they have a neurological system. Pain has been around since the beginning of animal evolution. One important thing it does is help animals recognize danger and stay away from it. However, in order to feel “pain,” emotions must be added. While shrimp and crabs may instinctively experience discomfort and a desire to withdraw, they might not be able to recognize this as suffering. Not all pain has to be bitter.

Scientists must attempt to develop an experiment that demonstrates whether lobsters are in pain, because they can’t just ask the animals if they are in discomfort. However, can you determine whether the lobster’s present behavior indicates nociception or pain? You’ll soon find it challenging to design this. We can’t really tell if a crab’s response to a stimulus—such as hitting hot water—is just a predefined reflex circuit of the nervous system or if the crab has assessed the benefits and drawbacks of changing its behavior if this signal stays in its brain for a while. This is closer to what we would term “pain,” because the crab gives up the benefits in its grasp and moves on.

Two intriguing papers addressing this issue have been published by Professor Robert W. Elwood of Queen’s University in the UK.

According to the first study, some hermit crabs would immediately abandon their shells and flee when they were shocked by electricity. Other hermit crabs would even run outside and attack their shells as a reaction. If you place a new shell next to the hermit crab after the electricity is turned off, the hermit crab that has been electrified but does not immediately escape will tend to change the shell. These results show that when a hermit crab gets an electric shock, it changes its behavior. This change is not a reflex, but a deliberate attempt to avoid the electric shock, which suggests that hermit crabs can feel pain.

They released a new study at the beginning of 2013. They switched to the local seaside’s common tiny crabs this time. To evade predators, crabs naturally look for holes to hide in. Ten crabs were placed in the experiment tank, and they hide in holes quickly. The researchers chose some of them and administered electric shocks through the holes. The crabs were then removed from the holes and placed back into the tank. While choosing this time, the electrocuted crabs have a tendency to shift holes or just refuse to enter the hole to hide, ostensibly recalling the “traumatic memories” of the last time they were electrified.

We don’t know whether crabs and lobsters experience pain in the same way we do, but at least we have proof that they feel discomfort and are prepared to give up something in order to escape it. So, think twice before ordering a live lobster next time!

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