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Yes, Lobsters Do Feel Pain

California spiny lobsterFor those who like to tell themselves that it’s OK to boil lobsters alive, life just got a bit more complicated.

A new study offers the most definitive evidence yet that crustaceans – crabs, lobsters, shrimps, etc. – feel pain. That’s something the fishing industry  has been trying to deny since forever. (They’re even still pretending that fish don’t feel pain.)

The new study comes from Professor Bob Elwood and his team at Queen’s University in the U.K., who demonstrated the reaction of crabs to a mild electric shock.

“Ninety crabs were each introduced individually to a tank with two dark shelters. On selecting their shelter of choice, some of the crabs were exposed to an electric shock. After some rest time, each crab was returned to the tank. Most stuck with what they knew best, returning to the shelter they had chosen first time around, where those that had been shocked on first choice again experienced a shock.

“When introduced to the tank for the third time, however, the vast majority of shocked crabs now went to the alternative safe shelter. Those not shocked continued to use their preferred shelter.

“Having experienced two rounds of shocks, the crabs learned to avoid the shelter where they received the shock. They were willing to give up their hideaway in order to avoid the source of their probable pain.”


None of the crabs in the research experiment were harmed beyond the mild shock, and all were returned to their homes in the rock pools of County Down, Northern Ireland. 

Dr. Elwood told reporters that the convenient belief that crustaceans don’t feel pain allows people to treat them in ways that are completely impermissible in relation to other animals.

“In the food industry around the world, billions of crustaceans are used each year but are regarded as not being able to suffer. They suffer extreme treatments which would not be allowed in the fishing or farming industries.”

He also told The Guardian that he decided to do the experiment after a well-known chef asked him whether crustaceans experience pain.

“Even if there’s a slight chance they feel pain, I feel we should start attending to that now. Crabs in some fisheries around the world have their claws just torn off and the live animals are thrown back into the sea – because it’s only the claws that are required by fisherman.

“You have lobsters being processed, prawns that are being processed live by the front end, the head and the thorax being torn off. And the head with the brain will carry on being a viable nervous system and will continue to go on like that for an hour or so.”