NPR logo Boiling Water Hurts Lobsters. Surprised?


Boiling Water Hurts Lobsters. Surprised?

WARNING: A gross video primer on the humane way to cook a lobster. Hint: Kill it first.

Scientists have gone back and forth over whether crustaceans feel pain — and what it really boils down to (sorry) is whether your conscience should pang you when you throw a live lobster into a pot for dinner. (Me, I leave the room but still eat the lobster: guilty.)

The latest scientific study says that yes, it likely does hurt when a lobster hits that boiling water. They're not just scrabbling around under the lid because it's dark in there.


Bonus: A gadget that kills the lobster for you, our segment on lobsters' feelings, and a piece on the long and happy lives of lobsters.



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Another step in the anthropomorphizing of animals.

Sent by Chief Clancy Wiggum | 10:58 AM | 11-16-2007

And it doesn't feel that sharp blade cutting it in half?

Sent by Jonru | 11:01 AM | 11-16-2007

Who cares? I'm not going to justify it except to say that nature isn't nice or pretty. Many creatures that serve as prey and have far more advanced nervous systems are partially consumed before they die.

Sent by J. Mengele | 1:44 PM | 11-16-2007

Why don't you all go immerse your hand (just your hand) in a pot of boiling water and then come back and say that it's not that bad.

Sent by Ted S. | 1:56 PM | 11-16-2007

Wow other animals feel pain too? What a revelation.... I thought they were just smart enough to realize when they were in a harmful situation....

Sent by asf | 2:57 PM | 11-16-2007

If we CAN kill something more humanely, why WOULDN'T we?

Sent by Chrissie | 3:09 PM | 11-16-2007

That video is barbaric. To kill a lobster humanely - you don't start by cutting its tail in half. You start at the head and sever it as quickly as possible. Jeez. Its not rocket science.

Sent by Dave Merkle | 4:00 PM | 11-16-2007

With great knowledge comes great responsibility

Sent by simbodoot | 4:20 PM | 11-16-2007

Mengle's right, why should humans attempt to be 'humane'? Really! Haven't we let the seal huggers over fertilize our minds with bogus compassion?! If I began to care how my dinner felt who knows where it will end. Iraq? Darfur? The elderly? If mother nature didn't want the intelligent (and handsome in my case) brutalizing the dumb then she wouldn't have given us the bigger brain. Think about it (see!). I can find no better way to honor her decision then by completely ignoring the delicious suffering of my main course. The next time you pause to think about what you're digesting a bear will likely sneak into your home (they can smell inattentiveness) and eviscerate you. The herd is thinned and they are more condor omelets for me.

Sent by Super Patriot | 4:35 PM | 11-16-2007

That's sad humans are evil are lobsters carnivores? If they are then i dont feel too bad but if they dont eat other animals then i feel bad for them.

Sent by jess | 4:41 PM | 11-16-2007

Cleaver chop the head off like a chicken? Is it really any better then a cockroach? They are hardy scavengers. Imagine we lived in our lovely habitats in the sea and these nasty clawed crusties wander about getting into our food.

Sent by amber | 5:22 PM | 11-16-2007

Killing it first makes it less fresh.

I want the freshest lobster possible.

Sent by kris | 5:38 PM | 11-16-2007

Instead of cruelly boiling the lobster, care should be taken instead to penetrate every layer of its flesh with a blade, then saw your way through its cranial plating.


It's better to soak the lobster in wine. It will get drunk, pass out, and die, and be marinated.

Sent by WiNG | 5:50 PM | 11-16-2007

Who doesn't know that boiling in water is inhumane--the quicker death is the more humane death. But, honestly, just give up eating higher life forms--it is just the best decision if you are at all concerned with being moral.

Sent by Carol Thompson | 6:15 PM | 11-16-2007

The fact that an organism -- carnivore, mammal, vertebrate, homo sapien, whatever -- has a central nervous system and is capable of feeling pain has nothing to do with anthropomorphism.

The willful infliction of pain on an organism -- carnivore, mammal, vertebrate, homo sapien, whatever -- is a different matter altogether. I'm doubtful the lobster knows it inflicts pain when it feeds on a fish

In that context, given human knowledge of the difference, that which apparently sets us apart from the less complex forms of life, the willing infliction pain is the very definition of inhumane.

And the very definition of ignorance.

Sent by Bart | 6:52 PM | 11-16-2007

If you think that's bad, maybe you should look at Ortolan.

Sent by Dave | 10:21 PM | 11-16-2007

i like these comments, but i've never eaten lobster. i believe as long as you plan to eat it, kill it how you like. just don't toy with it.

Sent by gosh | 10:31 PM | 11-16-2007

Just put them in the freezer for about 20 minutes and they go dormant, don't feel a thing

Sent by Dave | 11:26 PM | 11-16-2007

put it in a fridge until it goes to sleep. then put it in the pot. no pain.

Sent by adrian | 12:14 AM | 11-17-2007

dont wana be inhumane?
dont be human
what DONT we do thats inhumane?

Sent by anonymous | 2:06 AM | 11-17-2007

It is survival of the fittest. These animals had the misfortune to be stalked and captured for dinner, they pay the price for that food chain. Next some one will start talking about how plants feel pain and then what will we eat!!!! You all must remember we are still just animals like this lobster, and even the lobster eats living organisms that probably feel pain as the are devoured. It is the circle of life, dont fear it, embrace it and be proud and relieved that you are not on the bottom of the food chain!

Sent by bob | 2:25 AM | 11-17-2007

Bart nailed it. The dirrerence between us killing and eating lobster and some other killing and eating it is that we know that we're inflicting pain. The real question is if you can live with the fact that you're torturing another animal.

Sent by Morgan | 7:51 AM | 11-17-2007

Not to play semantic games, but there is a difference between the concepts of "pain" and "suffering". A lobster may recognize boiling water as a stimulus that could adversely affect it and strive to escape that stimulus. But the concept of it "hurting" means that an organism can understand it in terms beyond those of good stimulus/bad stimulus.

Sent by Dan | 2:14 PM | 11-17-2007

lol just put the lobster in a dish full of wine.
1. It marinates
2. It kills it
3. I wouldn't mind dying in a big tasty bucket of alcohol.

Sent by Moses | 2:44 PM | 11-17-2007

In our small boat cruising days we used to hunt lobsters and cook them aboard. I always found the tiny hammering and scratching noises from the pot disturbing.

We had friends who hypnotized their lobsters first
and then tip them over into the boiling water. Still too much tap-tap-tapping for my taste.

So, I'd resort to quickly severing their heads just before boiling. We ate a bunch of lobsters and could never tell any difference in flavor (supposedly killing the lobster before cooking released some sort of hormone that effected the taste of the meat, like struggling for a few minutes in boiling water wouldn't release some interesting hormones anyway).

Generally people are too disassociated with the origins of their fillet anyway, and it's bad enough that animals have to die for use carnivores to eat. But there's no reason they should suffer.

Sent by rick kennerly | 3:15 PM | 11-17-2007

I want to know something even more fundamental: Why did anyone think (probably centuries, or even millenia ago) that a creature that ugly, with all the meat inside the skeleton, was edible in the first place? I think of crabs and crayfish the same way.

Obviously, the best way out of the controversy of whether cooking a live lobster in boiling water is cruel or not is to simply leave them where they belong at the bottom of the sea.

Sent by Peter Whitcopf | 10:15 PM | 11-17-2007

There is another humane way to kill a lobster. Simply put it in the freezer a little while before you cook it (not long enough to freeze it) slows down their nervous systems and numbs them from the pain of the water.

Sent by Sam | 9:54 AM | 11-18-2007

Instead of splitting them down the middle (which one has to do for broiled lobster) my mother uses this time-proved method. As Sam described, put the little buggers in the Freezer, then place a chef's knife right between their eyes and BLAM! Put them in the water and disgust your vegan son.

Sent by Petro | 11:46 AM | 11-20-2007

All you freezer methods to numb them, always seem to forget to knife their heads first, before putting them in boiling water. 1. Freeze, 2. Knife Head 3. Boil. Freezing is not enough, you must knife head afterwards, to be as humana as possible.

Sent by I'm more human than you! | 6:40 PM | 1-7-2008

Comment one is wrong; this is about the humanizations of humans.

Sent by Tokyobk | 5:23 AM | 5-20-2008

I do not know what is worse. Getting Boiled alive by humans or being eaten alive by a triggerfish. When a trigger fish hunts for lobsters, the lobster gets eaten alive piece by piece. At least with being boiled alive the lobster will die in a minuet or less. When the triggerfish eats the lobster, it will feel the pain until the fish finishes eating it. Nature is just as cruel or worse then us.
I do not understand why people humanize food. If we have "feelings" for every thing we eat, then what will we eat? Lettuce? Wait it might feel the pain too.

Sent by Sergio | 2:17 AM | 7-16-2008

I wish people would quit complaining about humanizing food. I am not a vegan, nor anywhere close. But I can choose to buy meats from places that I know are humane as possible. If we can be humane, then we should. Anything else is just lazy.

Sent by jcause | 6:30 PM | 7-18-2008