Vet-Approved by Dr. Luqman Javed

Ever since David Foster Wallace published his notorious article “Consider the Lobster,” whether or not lobsters feel pain has become a mainstream debate, though professionals have been trying to figure out the answer to this question for decades.

Although “Consider the Lobster” has incited tons of conversation around the issue, there is still little consensus about whether or not lobsters actually feel pain. It appears that lobsters can detect even the slightest bit of temperature differences in water, though they do not have the neurological pathway to actually comprehend pain. Yet, lobsters have biological responses to “painful” situations.

To learn more about whether or not lobsters feel pain, read on. In this article, we provide both sides of the argument. Let’s get started.

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Lobsters and Pain – A Heated Debate

Whether or not lobsters feel pain has become a heated debate. Some countries, such as Switzerland, have made it illegal to place fully alive and awake lobsters into boiling water. Instead, these countries require the lobsters to be knocked out before being placed in the pot.

Even in countries where these laws have been in place, there’s still a lot of debate around whether or not lobsters feel pain. Simply taking a quick look online will show you a vast array of perspectives on the matter.

On one extreme, most lobster companies state that lobsters do not feel any pain at all, whereas PETA argues the complete opposite, that lobsters can feel everything you are doing to them. Given that both lobster companies and PETA have a biased stance on the matter, it makes sense why their arguments are so different.

Still, the debate isn’t settled by science either. Some scientists claim that the neurological pathway of lobsters makes it impossible for them to feel pain. However, other scientists claim that although they cannot feel pain like we do, they can interpret “painful” scenarios through biological responses.

red lobster in aquarium
Image Credit: Haland, Shutterstock

Why Don’t We Know If Lobsters Feel Pain?

In order to understand why there is so much debate around this topic, you have to know why scientists aren’t certain on the question.

No scientist can say for certain whether or not lobsters feel pain the same way as the mammalian nervous system responds to pain. Instead, scientists can only conduct experiments that can either suggest or disprove whether or not lobsters can feel pain.

Certain animals (such as dogs, cats, and other animals with similar neurologic systems as us) can almost certainly feel pain. Studies suggest that these animals are responding to pain and that their neurological responses are nearly identical to ours, further suggesting their pain responses.

Lobsters, however, have a very different anatomy and nervous system. As a result, it is difficult to conclude for certain whether or not lobsters feel pain. All scientists can go on is their own experiments and the lobster’s response, though it is unclear if the responses are due to pain or instincts.

european lobster
Image Credit: Piqsels

Arguments in Favor of Lobsters Feeling Pain

The most common argument in favor of lobsters feeling pain is that the lobster will continue to twitch its tail after being put in the water. Hence, it is assumed that the lobsters can feel pain since they are responding negatively to the boiling water.

Another argument that lobsters feel pain is that lobsters are very skilled at detecting water temperature changes. In fact, lobsters can tell whenever the water has changed just a degree, let alone jumped up to boiling point.

With these two facts together, those who support this stance on the matter claim that lobsters detect the boiling water temperature and can feel themselves being boiled alive or panicking from the process. Hence, they begin twitching all over to try to escape.

In addition, another argument that suggests lobsters can feel pain is because pain has benefits for living beings, as it alerts them to an unfavorable situation which needs to be addressed. For example, stepping on a lego elicits pain in humans, which is why we quickly step off the lego block. This makes pain a useful survival tool.

woman hoding lobster
Image Credit: Wilfried Strang, Pixabay

Arguments That Suggest Lobsters Do Not Feel Pain

Those who do not believe lobsters can feel pain do not reject the facts described above. In fact, they still agree that lobsters twitch when put in boiling water and that they have a developed system for detecting water temperature changes.

However, these people argue that the lobster’s neurological framework means that they cannot actually feel the pain. Instead, the lobsters are twitching out of a biologic response to change, which you might better understand as being instinct. In other words, they aren’t responding to pain, but the lobster’s instincts are kicking in due to the change in temperature.

A theory suggests that because many aquatic animals can quickly be hunted and eaten by a predator, it might be beneficial for them to not experience pain, as it will serve the evolutionary purpose of minimizing the stress associated with an untimely capture by a predator.

sea lobster
Image Credit: Piqsels

So, Do Lobsters Feel Pain?

So, where does that leave us? Both arguments are very strong and rooted in scientific data. In the most literal sense, it does not appear that lobsters can feel pain in the way we do. However, they can experience stress and know whenever they are put in different temperature waters.

As a result, lobsters have a biological response to certain situations, such as a limb being removed or being put into a pot of boiling water. These biological responses are negative and stressful for the lobster, though they aren’t exactly the same as pain.

As you probably know from your own busy days and stressful lives, stress can be just as painful as physical pain, though not in the same way.

Do Lobsters Feel Pain When Boiled Alive?

Given this stance, it seems that lobsters feel some sort of pain when boiled alive, though it is likely not a physical pain we can feel. More than likely, lobsters feel the stress of being boiled alive, even if they can’t feel the pain of it.

man holding lobste
Image By: Pixabay

Most Humane Forms of Cooking to Date

Although some people still argue that boiling alive is just as humane as any other forms of cooking, most ethical chefs are in favor of killing the lobster right before submerging them. The best way to do this is to take a knife and quickly crush the lobster’s head. This kills the lobster quickly without inciting any extreme biological response or stress.

You might also be interested in: What Do Lobsters Eat? Everything You Need to Know!

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Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to say whether or not lobsters feel pain. Based on the most recent studies, it seems that lobsters experience some sort of pain, but it is more likely a biological response to stress. Although stress isn’t quite the same as feeling pain, most people would still find it unethical to put lobsters in boiling pots of water as a result.

Most chefs would recommend slicing the lobster’s head first before putting it in the water. Even if lobsters cannot feel pain, it’s better to be safe than sorry. After all, extreme stress can feel just as painful as literal pain—there’s no point in potentially torturing the creature if you can avoid it!

Related Read: Do Fish Feel Pain? Here’s the Answer!

Featured Image Credit: Gilmanshin, Shutterstock