Does it hurt the lobster much when we stick it in a pot of boiling water? What about crabs? If you love broiled lobster tails or crabcakes, you really don’t want to know—at least according to Robert Elwood of Queen’s University in Belfast, who has studied the question of pain in invertebrates.
Reports the Washington Post:
[W]hen [Elwood] brushed acetic acid on [prawns’] antennae, they began grooming the treated antennae with complex, prolonged movements of both front legs. What’s more, the grooming diminished when local anesthetic was applied beforehand.
He then turned to crabs. If he applied a brief electric shock to one part of a hermit crab, it would rub at that spot for extended periods with its claws. Brown crabs rubbed and picked at their wound when a claw was removed, as it is in fisheries. At times the prawns and crabs would contort their limbs into awkward positions to reach the injury. “These are not just reflexes,” Elwood says. “This is prolonged and complicated behavior, which clearly involves the central nervous system.”
He investigated further by placing shore crabs in a brightly lit tank with two shelters. Shore crabs prefer to hide under rocks during the day, so in this situation they should pick a shelter and stay there. But giving some of the crabs a shock inside one of the shelters forced them to venture outside. After only two trials, the crabs that had received shocks were far more likely to switch their choice of shelter. “So there is rapid learning,” Elwood says, “just what you would expect to see from an animal that experienced pain.”
So I guess the humane way to kill a lobster is to split its head with a knife. And really, what is the alternative? To make the lobster your pet and call him Pinchy? Remember how that ended for Homer Simpson?