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This National Lobster Day, let lobsters live

No matter which side of the aisle we’re on, surely we can all agree that boiling any animal alive is cruel in the extreme - including lobsters.

A steamed Maine lobster.

A steamed Maine lobster. Credit: Daniel Brennan

One would think that federal lawmakers have enough on their plates tackling hot topics like immigration, health care and tax reform, but the U.S. Senate still found time to unanimously approve a resolution designating Sept. 25 “National Lobster Day.”

The best way to celebrate this rare show of unity is to leave lobsters in peace. No matter which side of the aisle we’re on, surely we can all agree that boiling any animal alive is cruel in the extreme - including lobsters.

While lobsters, crabs and other crustaceans may seem very different from us, in the ways that truly matter, their similarities to us might surprise you.

Lobsters are “marvelously complex,” according to lobster biologist Anita Kim, and “quite amazingly smart animals,” according to researcher Michael Kuba. They use complicated signals to explore their surroundings and establish social relationships. They carry their young for around nine months, have been known to travel great distances and can live as long as 100 years.

And can they feel pain? You bet your sweet pincers they can.

We’ve known for years that crustaceans feel pain. In 2005, the European Food Safety Authority concluded that they’re capable of experiencing both pain and distress and recommended that steps be taken to lessen their suffering whenever possible.

In 2009, Dr. Robert W. Elwood of Queen’s University Belfast, a leading authority on the subject of pain in crustaceans, published papers on this issue in the journals Animal Behaviour and Applied Animal Behaviour Science. “With vertebrates we are asked to err on the side of caution and I believe this is the approach to take with these crustaceans,” he wrote.

Anyone who has ever seen lobsters in the process of being boiled alive can attest to the fact that when they’re dropped into scalding-hot water, they struggle frantically and claw at the sides of the pot in a desperate attempt to escape. Scientists have confirmed that such reactions are panic and pain responses. And what’s worse, the lobsters likely suffer for every second of the three long minutes that it takes for them to die.

But you don’t need to be an animal expert to recognize that lobsters suffer when they’re boiled alive - you just have to be honest. In his classic essay “Consider the Lobster,” David Foster Wallace wrote, “(A)fter all the abstract intellection, there remain the facts of the frantically clanking lid, the pathetic clinging to the edge of the pot. Standing at the stove, it is hard to deny in any meaningful way that this is a living creature experiencing pain.”

Despite all this evidence, the U.S. and Canada kill an estimated 250 million lobsters every single year.

But we don’t have to. This National Lobster Day - and beyond - we, like Wallace, can pause and consider the lobster and all the other animals upon whom we casually inflict violence (or pay others to) for a fleeting taste of their flesh. And then we can stop eating them. It’s really that simple.

Paula Moore is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation.

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