Long Live the Lobster: Forever Young? : Krulwich Wonders... Apparently there are some creatures who just don't age. They don't break down — at least not in a way scientists can measure. Sea turtles and lobsters are a good example. Nobody really knows how long a lobster could live.
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Long Live the Lobster: Forever Young?

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Long Live the Lobster: Forever Young?

Long Live the Lobster: Forever Young?

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: that lobster on your plate maybe older than you are. Lobsters are among those creatures that hardly seem to age. They just go on and on unless something happens to them, like when you drop them in boiling water. Their long life got our correspondent Robert Krulwich musing about lobsters and aging.

ROBERT KRULWICH: In his laboratory at Boston University, Professor Jelle Atema has his own lobster.

JELLE ATEMA: It's a sizable lobster.

KRULWICH: Which means it's old. Because with lobsters, the bigger you are, the older you are. That's how you age a lobster, by size.

ATEMA: That's right. Yeah.

KRULWICH: And yet as big as it is...

ATEMA: A Fifteen-pound lobster.

KRULWICH: It's big, but nobody knows how big a lobster could get. The biggest one ever seen - 40-plus pounds. But there could be much, much bigger lobsters somewhere deep in the ocean. Because it appears, says professor Atema, that older lobsters wear out very slowly, like his lobster.

ATEMA: There's absolutely no indication that this lobster is showing signs of old age.

KRULWICH: In fact, lobsters in general show no discernable signs of aging. They don't lose appetite, sex drive, energy, no change in metabolism.

ATEMA: Something we could all be jealous of.

KRULWICH: Right. So if these creatures do get older and they don't get sicker or weaker, at least not in any way we can measure, maybe there's a 100-pound, 200-pound lobster down there. Of course, we don't know what it's like to be an old lobster because lobsters can't talk about aging. But I did meet a lobster who sings about aging.


JOSH CURR: Unidentified Woman: Shut up.

KRULWICH: Well, if he has vocal chords, this lobster, who, by the way, calls himself Leroy, the uninterrupted lobster, because he just keeps going and going and going, he tells his fellow lobsters that the key to longevity, at least for lobster, is to get lucky.

CURR: (As Leroy) (Singing) I've never had a parasite or suffered from diseases. I've outlived my brothers, nephews and my nieces' nieces. While they were caught and boiled alive and chopped up into bits, time and again I have escaped the death we call the bisque.

KRULWICH: Don't want to be a bisque.

ATEMA: I don't think so. Not if you're a lobster.

CURR: (As Leroy) (Singing) I dodged the fatal blows of pounding waves and craggy coastline. A tsunami has not got me in all of my long lifetime. Oceanic accidents occur but not to me. I'm just a growing lobster growing old naturally.

KRULWICH: (Singing) Naturally. Come on, Leroy, spill it. How did you avoid the skillet? We need to know so we can grow like you (unintelligible) Leroy.

ATEMA: That's nice. I like that.

KRULWICH: Could Leroy, then, live theoretically for - I mean, if he doesn't starve or get parasites, if he stays lucky, is it theoretically possible there are lobsters somewhere that could be really, really huge?

ATEMA: Yeah. I mean, theoretically, yes. I would say if there is no further - no insults to the system that shut down the basic metabolism, then, yes, I would imagine they could continue to live.

KRULWICH: And just get bigger and bigger and bigger.

ATEMA: Unidentified Group: Tell us how you did it. (Unintelligible) skillet. We want to know so we can be like Leroy (unintelligible).

KRULWICH: So then, as far as scientists know, in the oldest lobsters that you guys have seen when you look at their - I don't know whether lobsters have hearts or whether they have (unintelligible).

ATEMA: Yes, they do.

KRULWICH: Oh, they do. So do you feel them getting kind of old and cranky when they're older, or can you not tell?

ATEMA: There is no notice, no evidence for that.

KRULWICH: And you say that the older female lobsters, they have more babies than the younger lobster ladies.

ATEMA: Very much so. Very much so.

KRULWICH: And your old lobster in your lab, he still fights you and bites you like a young...

ATEMA: A mean, old, son of a bitch in my tank who is perfectly happy being just that.

KRULWICH: So if this mean old, whatever he is, if he stays lucky, scientists have no idea how big lobsters could get. Right? You don't...

ATEMA: That's right. Yeah. So if they live a very good life, with wonderful, plentiful food, as described in the song...

KRULWICH: Then he can eat, eat, eat...

ATEMA: But the phrase is...

CURR: Unidentified Group: Eat, eat, eat. Molt, expand, repeat.

CURR: (As Leroy) Yes.


ATEMA: Excellent. That's right. Exactly.

KRULWICH: All they have to do is keep eating and molting so they could build a bigger shell. And then eating again and then molting again. And if you ask them, what's your secret, big lobster? Actually, let's hear it from Leroy.

CURR: Unidentified Man #3: Leroy.

CURR: Unidentified Group: (Singing) Leroy, Leroy, Leroy, Leroy lobsters. Lobster, lobster, lobster, lobster.

CURR: Unidentified Group: (Singing) One.

CURR: Unidentified Group: (Singing) Two.

CURR: Unidentified Group: (Singing) Avoid the cage.

CURR: Unidentified Man #3: Avoid the cage?

CURR: Unidentified Man #4: Isn't there food in the cages?

CURR: Unidentified Man #5: How do we eat if we can't get to the food in the cages?

CURR: (As Leroy) The fisherman that own the cages eat you for food, with butter.

: I don't get it.

KRULWICH: Some lobsters are a little on the slow side. But I would say, as any insurance company would tell you, that the reason lobsters do not go on forever is, if you wait long enough, something bad will happen to you. Bad things do happen.

ATEMA: They do happen in real world.

KRULWICH: You mean they do have pollution, they do have acid rain.

ATEMA: Exactly. There are certain things that happen regardless. So there are seals around who could tackle a pretty large lobster.

KRULWICH: But if the lobster in your lab or some really lucky lobster down in an ocean paradise, if they can keep eating and molting and expanding and repeating then who knows, right?

ATEMA: Then that's it. Then we get the lobster that we're all dreaming of, or may be in our nightmares.


KRULWICH: With Josh Curr as the lobster, Shay Winters(ph) our composer, I'm Robert Krulwich in New York.

: Robert Krulwich co-hosts RADIO LAB, heard on many NPR stations. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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