Is Electrocuting Lobsters More Humane than Boiling Alive?

Published on November 28th, 2009 | by

I have to admit, I’ve never tasted lobster. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 16-years-old, and I grew up in the Midwest. I do remember my dad bringing home live lobsters from Maine and watching them be boiled alive in our kitchen. As a child, I wondered if this was humane and thus would not even taste the cooked lobster. Now, a British entrepreneur has invented a new machine to kill lobsters via electrocution in an effort to be more humane.

Photo by shimgrayLobsters feel pain
Lobsters feel pain

Traditionally, live lobsters are cooked in boiling water for 15 minutes, although they die after three minutes. If a dead lobster is boiled, the meat may not cook the whole way. Steaming the lobster is an alternative cooking method, in which the lobster “does not feel pain and will be dead in 10 seconds,” according to lobsterhelp.com. The site goes on to say:

One of the largest debates is whether or not a lobster can feel pain. The answer is the brain of a lobster is about the same as a grasshopper, which is not complex enough to feel pain. If you can kill a bug, than you should be able to kill a lobster.

Does the size of one’s brain really determine whether pain is felt? Simon Buckhaven of Studham Technologies is concerned lobsters do feel pain, so he has invented the CrustaStun. The Telegraph reports, “The machine, which can also be used to kill crabs and other crustacea, can end a lobster’s life in just 0.3 seconds,” but even electrocution causes suffering.

According to Discovery News, shellfish do “feel pain and stress” and cite a study involving hermit crabs:

Elwood and Appel gave small electric shocks to some of the crabs within their shells. When the researchers provided vacant shells, some crabs — but only the ones that had been shocked —left their old shells and entered the new ones, showing stress-related behaviors like grooming of the abdomen or rapping of the abdomen against the empty shell.

It was previously thought that a neocortex was needed to feel pain, but researchers believe shellfish have “a suitable central nervous system and receptors.” They further explain lobsters can see without having a visual cortex like is needed for human vision. Obviously, this vegetarian feels there is no humane way to kill a lobster, but I imagine a quick death is better than a slow one.


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1 comment

  • i am an environment scientist, presently working with a consultancy firm. i do research in chronobiology. i have taken a unicellular organism as my model system.
    i believe lobsters should be feeling pain, having a simpler brain doesn’t mean it cant feel pain moreover extensive research is yet to be done on its response to various behavior. the system is so complex i feel because we cant take it for granted the same stimulus will give reasonably same response in two different organisms, hence the comparisons on swift execution and slow execution has to be moved out.and really if not to hurt the organism its better to be veggie, all gains in terms of energy and ecology, hats off jenny

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