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August 20, 2007




Science indicates that lobsters are interesting animals who, like all animals, have the capacity to feel pain. Lobsters have pain receptors and other neurological structures that sense and respond to negative stimuli, and they may suffer more intensely than other animals because their brains don’t have pain-dulling mechanisms as ours do. Aside from having pain receptors, lobsters also clearly act as if they feel fear and pain when they are taken from their underwater homes, held captive in crowded tanks, and eventually dropped into boiling water. As the truth about lobsters emerges, more people are now realizing that boiling a lobster is no better than boiling a cat or a dog.


Scientists have discovered that lobsters have pain receptors and neurotransmitters that are very much like our own. University of Pennsylvania neurobiologist Dr. Tom Abrams says that lobsters have “a full array of senses,” and these senses include the ability to detect noxious chemicals and changes in water temperature and feel pain. Scientist John R. Baker states, “The nervous systems of lobsters and crabs … are complex; their sensory organs are highly developed; their responses to certain stimuli are immediate and vigorous.”

Dr. Nedim Buyukmihci, professor of veterinary surgery at the University of California at Davis, explains, “There is no question that lobsters have the ability to feel pain and suffer … Lobsters have a brain and a nervous system and are responsive to noxious (painful) stimuli. … [I]t would be inappropriate to do something to lobsters that you would not consider doing to conscious dogs, cats, or humans.”
In a recent feature for Gourmet magazine, renowned author David Foster Wallace researched the current science on lobster pain and reported that beyond having the parts of the brain necessary to feel discomfort, lobsters also have very sensitive pain receptors that are similar to our own. Wallace states, “[Lobsters] do have an exquisite tactile sense, one facilitated by hundreds of thousands of tiny hairs that protrude through their carapace. ‘Thus,’ in the words of T.M. Pruden’s industry classic About Lobster, ‘it is that although encased in what seems a solid, impenetrable armor, the lobster can receive stimuli and impressions from without as readily as if it possessed a soft and delicate skin.’” Read Wallace’s eye-opening article about lobsters.

It’s difficult to imagine that lobsters would have survived in the harsh underwater world without the ability to feel pain. Pain protects animals from danger—when they feel pain, they know to stay away from whatever caused the discomfort. In order for lobsters or any animal to have survived through the millennia, they must be able to sense pain and avoid it.

Even More Vulnerable to Pain

Besides having sensitive pain receptors, lobsters also lack the pain-dulling mechanisms that our own nervous systems use to protect us from severe pain. This means that lobsters may feel even more agony than we would in similar situations. Explains Wallace, “[L]obsters are maybe even more vulnerable to pain, since they lack mammalian nervous systems’ built-in analgesia …”

Invertebrate zoologist Dr. Jaren G. Horsley agrees that lobsters may feel even more pain than we do, saying, “The lobster does not have an autonomic nervous system that puts it into a state of shock when it is harmed. … [T]he lobster is in a great deal of pain from being cut open. … [It] feels all the pain until its nervous system is destroyed” during cooking.


In addition to having the physical adaptations necessary to feel pain, lobsters also act as if they feel pain (and pleasure). Whether they’re migrating hundreds of miles to follow the ocean temperatures that they like best or hiding from the bright lights in the supermarket, it’s clear that lobsters have likes and dislikes, as do all animals. That lobsters seek out things that are pleasant and avoid things that are painful shows that they can clearly feel the difference between the two.

When lobsters in grocery store tanks cower in the darkest corner and scramble to escape, they are behaving just as we would in a similar situation. Upon seeing many lobsters crammed together in a large holding tank, Wallace writes that “it is difficult not to sense that they’re unhappy, or frightened …”

When they’re dropped into scalding-hot water, lobsters whip their bodies wildly and scrape the sides of the pot in a desperate attempt to escape. Wallace writes, “Even if you cover the kettle and turn away, you can usually hear the cover rattling and clanking as the lobster tries to push it off. Or the creature’s claws scraping the sides of the kettle as it thrashes around. The lobster, in other words, behaves very much as you or I would behave if we were plunged into boiling water (with the obvious exception of screaming). A blunter way to say this is that the lobster acts as if it’s in terrible pain …”

Lobsters have brain structures that are designed to feel pain, and they clearly act as if they feel pain, pleasure, and fear. Given these facts, the truth becomes clear: Lobsters, like all animals, feel pain, and they deserve to be treated humanely.


Lobsters are usually captured by commercial fishers in traps in shallow coastal waters. Most lobsters are caught during the summer when they are out looking for food—they spend the winter in their burrows farther out at sea. Being torn from their underwater homes and transported over long distances is very stressful for these sensitive and solitary animals, and for many of the lobsters, it’s only the beginning of the long imprisonment leading up to their death.

After they are captured, lobsters may be transported to warehouses where they will be packed in ice while they are still alive and left for months. Lobsters are also transported to stores to be kept alive in tanks, where they may languish for weeks before someone buys them so that they can be taken home and killed. Since they are territorial, nocturnal animals who spend most of their time alone or hidden in their burrows, lobsters suffer greatly when they are packed together in filthy holding containers in warehouses or grocery stores.

Lobsters imprisoned in store tanks are under constant stress because of the exposure to bright light, lack of hiding places in their tanks, extreme crowding, and people tapping on or bumping into the glass. Most captive lobsters are never fed because store owners don’t want to spend the money to install filter pumps that would filter lobsters’ waste out of the water, so they slowly starve in the stark tanks. When they are finally purchased, lobsters endure being carelessly handled and jostled on the way to their final destination, and they are boiled or chopped up while they’re still conscious.

One of the most common ways to kill lobsters is by dropping them into pots of boiling water. In the journal Science, researcher Gordon Gunter described this method of killing lobsters as “unnecessary torture,” and Australia’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says that boiling these sensitive animals is an “unacceptable method” of killing them because it is so horribly painful. The government of New Zealand also recognizes that lobsters feel pain and included them in its humane slaughter legislation, which protects animals from painful methods of killing.

In addition to boiling lobsters while they’re still conscious, there are many other ways that people torture these animals before killing them—chefs have been known to chop up live lobsters before cooking them, and others put these animals in the microwave to kill them. In some restaurants, lobsters are chopped open and served while still conscious and struggling—this cruelty is called “live sushi.” If cats, dogs, pigs, or cows were treated in this way, restaurant owners could be jailed on felony cruelty-to-animals charges.

We still have a lot to learn about lobsters and other crustaceans, but the information that we do know points to the fact that they feel pain and fear. Lobsters, like all animals, deserve to be treated with kindness. Please keep lobsters off your plate and encourage your friends and family to do the same. Order a free vegetarian starter kit and free DVD to learn more about animals killed for food, and take advantage of our delicious fish-free recipes.

Crabs Feel Pain

Although scientists still have a lot to learn about the nervous system and pain response capacity of crabs and other crustaceans, some facts are clear: Crabs have well-developed senses of sight, smell, and taste, and science indicates that they have the ability to sense pain as well. Crabs have two main nerve centers, one in their front and one to their rear, and—like all other animals who have nerves and an array of other senses—they feel and react to pain.

Animals who feel and react to pain have an evolutionary advantage, and it seems unlikely that crabs would have survived in their treacherous ocean environment without the ability to sense pain. In observing their behavior, it is clear that crabs’ responses to actions that would cause pain (e.g., being boiled alive) are similar to those of any other animal (i.e., they try very hard to escape).

Dr. Nedim Buyukmihci, professor of veterinary medicine at the University of California, Davis, explains: “Pain is a universal biological phenomenon in the animal world. It serves to protect an individual from internal or external adverse conditions. All animals studied to date have been demonstrated to have at least some means of responding to stimuli which would cause pain. Even invertebrates such as insects and earthworms have been shown to possess pain modulators which were commonly thought to exist only in vertebrates such as mammals. It is, therefore, completely rational and biologically sound to state that crabs would be able to feel pain. Moreover, their behavior is consistent with this principle.”

While scientists are still discovering more about these fascinating animals’ biology and behavior, compassionate people should give crabs and other crustaceans the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their capacity to feel pain and simply leave them off the dinner table.

“Pain is a universal biological phenomenon in the animal world. It serves to protect an individual from internal or external adverse conditions. … It is, therefore, completely rational and biologically sound to state that crabs would be able to feel pain. Moreover, their behavior is consistent with this principle.”
—Dr. Nedim C. Buyukmihci, professor of veterinary medicine at the University of California, Davis

How can you help stand up for crabs? First, stop eating them! By leaving crustaceans off your plate, you’ll be doing your part to end the cruelty and environmental destruction caused by the fishing industry. Since the flesh of crabs and other marine animals is often laced with toxic chemicals, you’ll also be protecting your health when you leave crabs off your plate.

Thanks to the many delicious faux fish and crab alternatives in stores today, going fish- and crab-free has never been easier. To get started, check out our free recipes that capture that taste of the ocean without killing its inhabitants. Visit VegCooking.com for more savory recipes and shopping guides, or order a free vegetarian starter kit packed with information and tips. Find out more about how you can help.

We need to keep them out of the traps.....how cruel!

And off the tables! Barbaric and sad!

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