Warning: This video depicts live lobsters being boiled. Watch at your own discretion
It has been said that lobsters make a certain sound when placed in a vat of boiling water, which sounds similar to screaming. While obviously these creatures can't scream, who says that they can't feel?
There has been a long debate on the treatment of crustaceans over the years. All one has to do is imagine themselves being submersed in a boiling pot of water, or cut and torn apart limb from limb while still alive. All these are accepted methods of preparing crabs, lobsters, and prawns. The common belief that these food preparation methods have hidden behind, is that a crustacean does not feel pain during the killing process... but new research on hermit crabs might suggest differently!The Big Debate
Now it can be a pretty big debate when you get a room full of vegetarians and meat eaters together and start talking about the process of killing animals for food in general. Things can get pretty heated! The point of the studies conducted by Professor Bob Elwood and Mirjam Appel from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen's, were not necessarily to show that the killing of crustaceans for food is evil, but rather that there might need to be some regulation to the process.
Currently, there is no protection of these animals for how they are killed, and despite the outrage of groups such as PETA, nothing has really been done about it. Restaurants can do any number of methods to prepare crustaceans, ranging from throwing them into a pot of boiling water to cutting their limbs and torso while they are still technically alive.
If it was true that they could not feel pain, then there would be no argument to these methods. But if it can be proven that they feel pain, then some would say this is just as cruel as using these same methods on a live chicken or rabbit.
How the Studies Were Conducted
The researchers used two groups of hermit crabs. One group was given a small shock through the shell to the abdomen, while the other group was left alone. What they found is that only the crabs who were given the shock would leave their shell, indicating that the stimulus was unpleasant for them. Next they went on to see just how unpleasant this stimulus was.
Crabs inherently prefer certain shells more than others, and will choose to stay in them until it is either necessary for them to leave, or they find a better one. To make things more interesting, the researchers offered both groups of crabs new shells after the first group had received the shock. What they found is that more of the crabs who experienced the discomfort of the shock sought out a new shell. This indicates that these creatures may have "remembered" the experience, and it was unpleasant enough for them to seek new shelter.
In a nutshell, this research appears to indicate that the actions of the crab were more than just a mere reflex. The actions seemed to be a purposeful act to remove themselves from an unpleasant stimulus, much the same as you would expect any mammal to do after a similar uncomfortable experience. While these are certainly not mammals by any means, these findings suggest that these basic low-level actions are consistent with similar pain experiments conducted on mammals.
What is the Humane Way to Kill?
These findings are far from being conclusive, but they do suggest the possibility to err on the side of caution when preparing these creatures for food. There are a number of ways of preparing crustaceans that has been suggested as humane, but there are also questions as to how humane these methods actually are.
One such method is to place them in the refrigerator and allow them to become unconscious before placing them in boiling water. Unfortunately, once the lobster hits the boiling water they are quickly brought back to consciousness, and may live up to three minutes past this point.
Another method is to cut into their spinal column above their head before cutting up the rest of their body. However, if this research proves true, then these creatures will not only feel the pain of the initial severing, but they may also continue to feel pain throughout the several remaining strokes of the knife until their nervous system is completely destroyed.
While I like a good crab cake as much as the next person, I wonder what the answer is to this debate. What is your opinion? Are some people making a bigger deal of this than they should, or should there be some regulation introduced to the humane treatment of these creatures?
Source: Science Daily- Crabs Not Only Suffer Pain, But Retain Memory Of It
More on the humane treatment of animals
How to Humanely Remove a Snake
How to Deal with Unwanted Wildlife in Urban Areas
How to Be a Compassionate Carnivore
How to Build a Humane Mousetrap
George the Lobster is Free!