Why are lobsters cooked alive and do they feel pain?

Wednesday 22nd July 2009
Submitted by Luis Villazon
Martin Egan, Ireland

Lobsters and other shellfish have harmful bacteria naturally present in their flesh. Once the lobster is dead, these bacteria can rapidly multiply and release toxins that may not be destroyed by cooking. You therefore minimise the chance of food poisoning by cooking the lobster alive.
That's great for us but what about the lobster? It has been argued that lobsters do not possess a true brain and so can't feel pain. It is fair to say that they are not self-aware in the same way that we are, but they do react to tissue damage both physically and hormonally, so they are obviously capable of detecting pain on some level. In fact, the hormone that they release into the bloodstream, cortisol, is the same one that humans produce when hurt. But the most visible sign of distress is the twitching tail, which evolved as an escape reflex. Researchers at the University of Maine found that putting the lobster on ice for 15 minutes before dropping it into boiling water produced the shortest tail-twitching interval (20 seconds).
Contrary to the popular urban myth though, placing the lobster in cold water that is then slowly brought to the boil does not anaesthetise the animal and appears to extend its suffering.

Can we correct colour blindness?
previous qanda Article
How high must you sing to shatter a wine glass?
next qanda Article
Q&A Tabs

Phlegm is the mucous secretion of the respiratory passages. The cilia cells that line these passages are continually driving the phlegm upward to the throat, where it triggers the swallow reflex...

It’s called trypophobia and it’s not a fear of open man-holes or caves. Rather, it is the revulsion some experience when they look at asymmetric clusters of small holes, or dark spots...

Beard hair is quite different to head hair; it is coarser, curlier and doesn't fall out as we get older. Comparatively little work has been done on the genetics of human hair colour, but it is...

It depends on how high (or low) you set the bar of fluency. Ziad Fazah, born in Liberia, brought up in Beirut and now living in Brazil, claims to be the world's greatest living polyglot, with...

Ordinary glass absorbs 97 per cent of the UVB rays that cause sunburn and some skin cancers, and 37 per cent of the less harmful UVA radiation. This translates to a protection of about SPF30, so...

All female mammals have a clitoris, the sole purpose of which is to react to sexual stimulation, and presumably this stimulation has evolved to be pleasurable for most species. But establishing...

To create a sound, we have to set matter - whether it's a gas like air, a liquid or even a solid material - in regular motion, creating a wave of specific frequencies, which we hear as a sound of...

Mirrors don’t reverse left and right either – that’s just our interpretation of what happens. Your reflection in the mirror is actually reversed front to back – if you have...

Discovered by an American student named Gary Flandro in the mid-1960s, the slingshot manoeuvre usually involves spacecraft briefly 'coat-tailing' a planet orbiting the Sun, extracting some of the...

The ice disappears because the wind blows away water molecules that have evaporated or 'sublimed' from the ice, so the ice slowly shrinks in size. The molecules that escape are those with the...