Shellfish might feel pain when cooked, study shows
Goliath the Lobster is settling into his new home at the St. Lawrence ecosystem basin at the Montreal Biodome. (Montreal Biodome - Claude Lafond)
Published Thursday, January 17, 2013 9:16PM EST
Last Updated Friday, January 18, 2013 11:26PM EST
The results of a new study might give you pause before you cook your next lobster.
Lobsters, crabs and other crustaceans might feel pain when they’re boiled, the study indicates.
The study found that crabs learn to avoid certain areas after receiving electrical shocks there, according to a paper published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.
The experiment, conducted by animal behaviour expert Robert Elwood at Queen’s University in Belfast, aimed to identify pain, which prompts behaviour change, as opposed to nociception, which merely causes reflex responses.
“Various criteria have been suggested regarding what we would expect if pain were to be experienced,” Elwood said a press release. “The research at Queen’s has tested those criteria and the data is consistent with the idea of pain. Thus, we conclude that there is a strong probability of pain and the need to consider the welfare of these animals.”
For the study, researchers placed 90 common shore crabs individually into a tank of seawater. The tanks contained dark shelters, which crabs favour to avoid predators.
Some of the crabs received mild but painful electrical shocks when they crawled into the shelters. After removing the crabs for a short interval, the researchers replaced the crabs in the tank, giving previously shocked crabs a second jolt.
The researchers found that the next time they placed the crabs in the tanks, those that had been previously shocked avoided the dark shelters.
“They were willing to give up their hideaway in order to avoid the source of their probable pain,” Elwood said.
Although the experiment seems to show behaviour change, necessary in proving pain, the study’s results alone are not conclusive, the paper says.