Shellfish Feel Pain; Don't Boil that Lobster!

First Posted: Jan 17, 2013 10:03 AM EST

Now this will make you feel bad about boiling a lobster. A new study suggests that shellfish, such as crabs, lobsters, and shrimp, can feel pain.

The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, examined how European shore crabs responded to potentially painful situations. Professor Bob Elwood from the Queen's University Belfast and his team placed 90 crabs in a brightly lit arena. They gave the crustaceans the option of hiding in two small shelters placed within the area. Since the European shore crab seeks out shade in the wild to avoid predators such as seagulls, the crevices made enticing options. Once the shellfish had chosen one of the shelters, the researchers gave half of them an electric shock.

These shocked crabs were then placed back in the arena to assess their responses. Surprisingly, most of them moved back to the original shelter where they had been zapped. It was time for another dose of electricity. After a second shock, though, most of the crabs seemed to think better of the shelter they had chosen. The crabs switched shelters in an effort to avoid a third shock. Even though the crustaceans were placed back in the arena eight more times, they continued to avoid the shelter where they had been shocked.

This study seems to point to the fact that crustaceans can not only feel pain, but can also learn to avoid it. As fish farming increases, this research gives rise to questions about how we treat our seafood and how we proceed with the growth of this industry.

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