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

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...

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...

Trees release oxygen when they use energy from sunlight to make glucose from carbon dioxide and water. Like all plants, trees also use oxygen when they split glucose back down to release energy to...

Scars form at any injury site that takes more than three or four weeks to heal. The body produces collagen fibres in a criss-cross pattern. The normal shedding process of skin doesn’t affect scars...

The powder is actually tiny scales made from modified hairs. Moths, like butterflies, belong to the order Lepidoptera, which means 'scale wing'. The scales are pigmented but they also contribute...

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...