Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Sea Change in Thinking About Sea Animals

A sea change in thinking about sea animals
By Paula Moore
Sunday, February 1, 2009

Feel-good stories about centenarians are nothing new. But a recent harrowing tale with a happy ending about one long-lived fellow named George might have taken some readers by surprise.

George was abducted from his home in Newfoundland, Canada, taken to New York City, where he was imprisoned in a small enclosure for 10 days, and then, after his captors had a change of heart, released in Maine.

George last was seen swimming to freedom.

Did I mention that George is a 20-pound, 140-year-old lobster? The old-timer got his second chance at life when the folks at Manhattan's City Crab and Seafood -- where George had been confined to a tank -- agreed to let PETA return him to the sea.

While no animal deserves to be kept in a tiny tank or boiled alive, surely any lobster that has avoided being trapped almost since the Civil War has earned the right to live out his days in freedom and peace.

Lobsters are fascinating animals that, like George, can live to be more than 100 years old, recognize individual lobsters, remember past acquaintances, have elaborate courtship rituals and help guide young lobsters across the ocean floor by holding claws in a line that can stretch for many yards.

And although theories abound, no one has ever come up with a satisfactory way to give lobsters a painless death.

A study in New Scientist gives chefs who insist that crustaceans cannot feel pain "claws" for concern. When researchers at Queen's University in Belfast daubed acetic acid on the antennae of 144 prawns, the animals reacted by vigorously rubbing and grooming the affected antenna for several minutes. Dr. Robert Elwood says that his study shows that prawns and their crustacean cousins -- lobsters and crabs -- are sensitive to pain.

Even before the New Scientist study, the European Food Safety Authority's Scientific Panel on Animal Health and Welfare had concluded that lobsters and crabs are capable of experiencing pain and distress and are worthy of legislative protection.

Lobsters also just might be a little smarter than many people give them credit for. University of New Hampshire zoologist Win Watson dropped a lobster trap rigged with a camera into the water and discovered lobsters wandering in and out of traps at will. Most lobsters go into the traps, grab a bite of food and then swim right back out.

In late 2007, dozens of lobsters -- destined to be boiled alive -- in an Asian supermarket in Germany made a break for it. Sometime during the night, the lobsters crawled out of their poorly secured crates, scampered across the floor and squeezed through metal shutters at the front of the store and out onto the street.

The cunning crustaceans eventually were apprehended. But their daring escape saved their lives: They were taken to an animal sanctuary.

So, the next time you see a lobster waving his antennae at you from a murky grocery store tank, don't just pass him by: He could be signaling an SOS. Not all of us will have the opportunity to help an old-timer like George, but we can all make a difference simply by keeping crustaceans -- and other animals -- off our plates.

Paula Moore is a senior writer for PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

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