Trevor Corson's (old) Lobster Blog

This is the old Lobster Blog of Trevor Corson, author of the worldwide pop-science bestseller The Secret Life of Lobsters. This blog is no longer active; it serves as an archive of Trevor's posts on lobsters from 2004-2006. Visit Trevor at his new website, TrevorCorson.com.

My Photo
Name: Trevor Corson
Location: New York, NY, United States

Thursday, March 01, 2007

New Book! New Blogs!

I know it's been a long time since I've updated the Lobster Blog. Some of you have written to say you've missed the blog, which I really appreciate.

Even without regular updating, in February the Lobster Blog received a maelstrom of hits when the popular blog BoingBoing linked to my blog entry on the new lobster killing machines being used by Whole Foods Market. On the day of BoingBoing's post, visitor traffic to this website went from a steady average of 150 hits a day to over 47,000 hits. Boing.

The reason I haven't been updating the Lobster Blog is that I've been completely consumed by the task of finishing a new book. I'm very excited about it. It's called The Story of Sushi: An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice.

I've set up a new website, TrevorCorson.com, that will feature the new book and that will be my new home on the web. If you liked The Secret Life of Lobsters, I think you'll enjoy reading The Story of Sushi as well. Check it out.

In conjunction with TrevorCorson.com I've set up a new blog, the Scrawling Claw. (This Lobster Blog will remain on the web as an archive.)

I look forward to hearing from you on the new sites! Thanks for your interest.

Best,
Trevor

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Celebrity Sighting


Fatal attraction.
Actress Glenn Close was recently spotted reading THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS on a JetBlue flight from Portland, Maine to New York City.

I could make a bad joke -- boiled rabbit with your boiled lobster, anyone? -- but I won't.

Oops, I did.

Dear Glenn, I'm honored. Hope you like the book.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Half-Baked


(photo: Abigail Curtis, AP)
Talk about an identity crisis!

This from the AP Newswire, July 14, 2006:
BAR HARBOR, Maine - An eastern Maine lobsterman caught a lobster this week that looks like it's half-cooked. . . .

Staff at the Mount Desert Oceanarium say the odds of finding a half-and-half lobster are 1 in 50 million to 100 million. By comparison, the odds of finding a blue lobster are about 1 in a million.

Bette Spurling, who works at the oceanarium, said lobster shells are usually a blend of the three primary colors: red, yellow and blue. Those colors mix to form the greenish-brown color of most lobsters. This lobster, though, has no blue in half of its shell, she said.


Comments (1):

- In reference to the half-baked lobster, I just want to say how important the Mount Desert Oceanarium in Bar Harbor was in turning me on to our oceans and ocean creatures long, long ago. I vividly remember childhood trips there, playing with sea cucumbers in the tidal pool tank, learning about lobsters, seeing giant baleen combs on the wall . . . My love of ocean life likely started with frequent visits to the oceanarium as a young kid. Everyone should take a trip there if it's feasible, and parents should definitely get their kids there.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Lobster Requiem


(photo: Marite Irimia,
courtesy of Richard Drexler's
Lobster Dance Music)
After the hate mail I've received lately from militant vegans in response to my article in Boston magazine about cooking lobsters, this e-mail from a gentleman named Paul was refreshing:
From reading your Lobster FAQ's, I have learnt that when lobsters "squeal" in boiling water, the high-pitched noise is actually the steam escaping from its body cavities. I have thought of an idea. Would different sized lobsters produce different tonations of "squeal"? If so, it may be possible to create a "lobster piano" in which lobsters of different size are released into the hot water with such timing that a tune would be played. Has one of these ever been made?
God bless you, Paul, you made my day. I don't know, but I sure as heck hope you make one and send us the recording.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Pol Pot of Lobsterdom

Michael Ruhlman, a food writer I admire, launched an eloquent volley questioning the extremes of animal-rights activism on the food blog Megnut. He writes:
What is going on here? Lobsters are insects! . . . The real victims are the agribusiness chickens, cows and hogs, but the animal rights activists can't touch the culprits responsible, true goliaths. So instead The People try to save the little animals.
Ruhlman called on celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain to use his influence to combat these absurdities.


The author of Kitchen
Confidential
has a few
words for Whole Foods.
Ruhlman's rant generated a lot of discussion. Bourdain himself even weighed in. Bourdain wrote:
The fucktards at Whole Foods . . . have done us a real service by providing the most ludicrous example of "animal welfare" concerns with their public hand wringing over the fate of shellfish. Comedy Gold. . . . Extraordinary that in a time when hundreds of thousands of PEOPLE are starving to death in the Sudan and elsewhere, that there is no more burning issue on the minds of educated, well-fed, financially comfortable citizens than whether or not a clam [or lobster] feels pain. PETA . . . will of course do nothing that impacts America's bottomless hunger for fried, battery raised chickens -- and will continue to concentrate on "winnable" battles . . .
. . . like lobster.

As always, it was entertaining to hear from Bourdain, who has no compunction about killing or eating just about anything.

Especially lobsters. A few years ago, Bourdain published a short story -- no doubt based on his real-life experiences -- that began with a priceless meditation on lobster killing.

The story was called "Chef's Night Out," and it begins with the narrator in a foul mood:
I've gotten a little fragile since the lobsters started looking at me funny. . . . Understand; I've been killing lobsters for like, 22 years now. I've boiled them alive. Steamed them to death. I've torn them in half, chopped them into wriggling chunks for fricassee, for Lobster Americaine. Early in my career, when I worked at one of those seaside tourist traps, you could pick your victim out of a 55-gallon tank on your way in and I'd kill him to order, have him delivered to your table steamed, broiled, stuffed, or baked -- your choice.

I killed them in dozens, stacked their struggling bodies in heaps, five-deep in the heavy stainless steel and wrought-iron steamer, slammed the double doors shut, turned the wheel, and gave them the steam. I racked up, in one year, a body count that would have been the envy of a company-sized unit of angry Serbs. I was the Pol Pot of Lobsterdom, and you could smell the brackish cloud from the stacks of the dead blocks away from my kitchen. The drains clogged with the milky white albumen which bubbled out from inside their shells -- it clung to my shoes, stained my clothes, collected under my fingernails.

And I didn't mind at all. Not one little bit.

One of my early chefs, an affable Frenchman with a drinking problem, explained why one must section the hapless creatures while still alive for Lobster Americaine. "The meat," he said, "she become tough."

I said, "Oui, chef!" with no thought of my victims' pain, or of some Lobster Nuremberg in the future.

Other chefs I knew complained of bad dreams.

"I dream I'm in a sauna," said one, "and I look out the door through the little window? And there's a big motherfuckin' lobster and he's, like, turning up the heat, man. His antennae are twitching, and he's making all sortsa godawful screechin' sounds. There's a whole buncha his friends, they clappin' their claws together as he gives me the steam. Then, when I'm all pink and red and shit, they take me out and split me up the middle and cram hunksa crabmeat and bay scallops in my chest, and I'm flopping around and screaming on the cutting board. Payback . . ." shuddered my friend, "payback is a motherfucker." . . .

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Trevor's Top-Five Reasons Why the Decision by Whole Foods to Ban Live Lobsters Runs Counter to the Philosophy of Whole Foods


Hypocritical?
Okay, I'm definitely beating a dead lobster now . . . but my cover story in Boston magazine on Whole Foods' decision to ban live lobster has been getting some press (it's now on newsstands, in the July issue) -- and I want to sum up my additional thoughts since it was published. Here are my top-five reasons why the decision by Whole Foods to ban live lobsters runs counter to the philosophy of Whole Foods:
1. We lose the last living connection we had to animals as food, which reminded us of where our dinner comes from.

2. The lobsters will now die inside a massive, automated crushing machine in an anonymous factory. While probably more humane than boiling them alive, it's not more humane than pithing them in your kitchen prior to cooking, and we lose our personal recognition of them as living creatures whose deaths sustain and enliven us.

3. Whole Foods will now get all its lobsters from one corporatized operation in Canada, which catches lobsters with its own corporatized factory boats. Whole Foods is turning its back on the independent, small-scale, owner-operator lobstermen of Maine, who have a strong tradition of conservation and stewardship, and whose communities constitute one of the last significant fisheries that has yet to be consolidated into an impersonal industrialized system.

4. The Canadian corporate boats catch and keep large broodstock lobsters -- the mother and father lobsters. The lobstermen of Maine return these lobsters to the sea to help repopulate the lobster population, and have fought long and hard to convince other lobster-fishing regions to protect these broodstock lobsters as well. Unless Whole Foods exerts pressure on the Canadian operations to institute broodstock protections, Whole Foods will be party to the gradual decimation of the big lobsters that make the babies that keep the fishery going.

5. The development of a vast new market for processed, packaged lobster meat could, in the long run, exert the same kind of demand-driven pressures on the lobster fishery that have contributed to the destruction, from overfishing, of other marine species.
The conclusion? Whole Foods should be applauded for taking animal welfare seriously, but this decision seems to have been less about ethics than economics. Whole Foods can sell far more processed lobster meat than they could ever sell in the way of live lobsters, and at much less expense.

P.S. Whole Foods could rectify problems 3 & 4 by buying its processed lobster meat from a supplier in Maine, like Shucks Maine Lobster, instead of from Clearwater Seafoods.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Independence Day

Lobster cooking continues -- the old-fashioned way -- at this summer's annual Fourth of July picnic on Little Cranberry Island, where THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS took place.


Two lobstermen celebrate Independence Day by working the pot. The man on the
right is a former sternman on the Double Trouble with Bruce Fernald.
An idle lobster storage crate and tubs of bait fill the background.
(photo: Sarah Corson)

Monday, July 03, 2006

Along with Adolf Hitler and Idi Amin, Lobsters Should Be Left Alone


Moral equivalence?
A few days ago, a person named Antoine wrote to me with his reaction to my article in Boston magazine on the life and death of lobsters:
Lobsters are highly intelligent creatures. Do you seriously think that they are "happy" in tanks in a grocery store? Are you that deluded? Lobsters can live up to 100 years. As well, lobsters mate and mourn just like we do. . . . It seems that your entire reason for being stems from a speciesist attitude based on lies and misinformation.
I pointed out to Antoine that there was no evidence that lobsters experience emotions such as happiness or mourning. The lobster's nervous system is on par with that of a housefly or mosquito; there is no brain, just a connected series of ganglia composed of a total of around 300,000 neurons. By contrast, human brains have a hundred billion neurons, and that's not including the rest of our nervous system. Are lobsters intelligent? While writing THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS I was amazed at what lobsters are capable of, but I also came to understand that their behaviors are the result of a primitive, hard-wired neural circuitry.


Boil him alive? Surely, that
would be too kind.
Antoine's response was essentially to say that it didn't matter. Ethics, in his view, required that a lobster receive the same level of compassion as any human, no matter what. He went on to argue that:
Who the act is committed upon is not relevant when discussing ethics. Although many would feel justified in killing the Hitlers and Idi Amins of this world, there is no argument as to the ethics of such an action.
Certainly, Antoine is entitled to his own understanding of ethics. But his beef with me was that I called myself an ethical eater. Antoine demanded that I stop doing so, because in his view, the fact that I ate lobster at all -- even humanely killed lobster -- proved that I had no ethics at all.

My beef with people who have views like Antoine's, as I've written before on my blog, is that:
their obsession with saving lobsters from the pot is a costly misallocation of moral concern, especially when there is so much that is good about eating lobster, including the fact that for the most part, lobster is one of the world's few sustainably harvested seafoods. And if there's one thing I've learned about lobsters, it's that they are not sentient creatures in the sense that cows and pigs are (FYI, I don't eat much pork, beef, or chicken, and when I do, I try to stick to the free-range varieties).
I also wonder what will remain for Antoine to eat after he reads The Secret Life of Plants, which argues that plants possess consciousness not unlike animals.

Comments (4):

- I don't feel any of this guy's opinion is worth the time of day. Debases your site. Just gives the guy fuel, ammunition, power, etc.

- What's funny about ethics is that they are inherently subjective (to me, anyway). I'll go to great lengths to remove a spider from the house, unharmed, but squash mosquitoes with relish. I think Antoine has a point -- where do we draw ethical lines, and who gets to draw them? And should ethics be relative, or fixed? But when it comes to food and eating, there are simple, practical realities. We've gotta eat something. And the less removed from our food choices, the better, I agree. The science nerd in me can understand that lobsters' simple or "primitive" nervous systems probably don't provide the biological equipment for emotions and higher consciousness. But the mystical nerd in me feels that we can't really know the consciousness of other beings. Do lobsters feel? Who knows. But everything we eat that once was a living thing may have had some kind of consciousness. The solution, to me, is to be thankful for the food that living things provide for us, and remember that we're just part of the big picture of creatures eating and being eaten, and that actually connects us to the web of life in very real and satisfying ways. Otherwise, I might end up being a Fruitarian, eating only fruits that have naturally fallen from plants!

- When are you going to wake up and stop fooling yourself? Since when did killing animals become humane or ethical? Any damn way you kill a lobster it still renders you a murderer. Anybody with a conscience knows that. So start understanding the fact that maybe you should develop your conscience. God bless you.

- What is the fixation these people have with lobsters? Do they not know how hostile the world is under the sea? Do they not know how many clams are crushed and eaten by lobsters every summer? Do they not know how lobsters are savagely killed and devoured by the millions during their molting period by bluefish? Do they not know how savagely the bluefish are ripped apart by the migrating bluefin tuna? Shouldn't they be protecting the clams from the bad lobster? If they say lobsters are intelligent creatures then they should get them to stop crushing things in their claws, because that must also be a cruel thing to do. I think dropping a lobster in a pot of boiling water to put nutritious food on the table is far less cruel than what its demise would have been on the bottom of the ocean. These people are becoming so sensitive about what we eat that I think they must have to be living on artificial foods to not be hypocrites, right? They better be.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Lobsters and the Media


New York Times illustration
by Ji Lee (photo: Daniel Root)
In the New York Times on Sunday, food critic Frank Bruni wrote an article titled "It Died for Us," in which he argued that the decision by Whole Foods to discontinue the sale of live lobster dovetailed with a heightened awareness about where our food comes from and whether it was produced humanely -- a subject he went on to discuss in relation to a variety of animals.

The illustration accompanying the article showed a red lobster in a coffin with flowers, labeled "100% Humanely Killed Fresh Maine Lobster."

The illustration was amusing. But the picture -- and the article -- made an assumption: The lobsters that will be processed for Whole Foods in the future will be killed humanely, and they will come from Maine.

I made similar assumptions in my own article on the Whole Foods decision in the July issue of Boston magazine, which went to press in mid-June and which is just now hitting newsstands.

But since then, what has struck me is how none of the journalists who have written about the Whole Foods lobster ban -- including myself, at least until the past week or so -- have probed far enough behind the Whole Foods corporate press release.

To my knowledge, the stories on the lobster ban in the mainstream press have not questioned the official Whole Foods position that the lobsters will be harvested in a sustainable fashion and killed humanely. And now the news cycle has already moved on. I doubt any major media outlet will be revisiting the story.

I decided to write a letter to the New York Times to challenge our assumptions. The letter was published in today's paper, along with some other letters on the subject. Here is the full letter I sent; unfortunately, the Times only published the second paragraph.
To the Editor:

Whole Foods "humanely killed" lobsters won't be coming from Maine. Maine's several thousand small-scale independent harvesters protect the oversized broodstock (mother and father) lobsters that help repopulate the fishery. But Whole Foods will be selling only processed lobster meat from Clearwater Seafoods of Canada, which operates large-scale corporate boats that do not protect oversized broodstock lobsters.

The lobsters prepared for Whole Foods will die inside enormous automated crushing machines. The lobsters are loaded alive into a cylinder and the water around them is compressed to several times the pressure found in the deepest trenches of the ocean. Tests by animal-welfare experts are underway, but it is not yet clear how long the lobsters suffer inside these high-pressure processors before they die; attaining maximum pressure requires 30-45 seconds. While perhaps more humane than boiling alive, it is certainly not more humane than pithing a lobster with a kitchen knife before you put it in the pot.

Trevor Corson
Washington D.C.
The writer is the author of a book on lobster biology.
I must add, folks: I find it extremely ironic that I have ended up sounding a lot like PeTA and David Foster Wallace. Don't worry -- I still believe in splitting lobsters in half with a kitchen knife, cooking them, and eating them.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

How to Kill a Lobster, Redux


The CrustaStun, continuous flow
stunner
.
In my article in Boston magazine on the "lobster war" -- about the ways that animal-rights activists and Whole Foods executives are putting live lobster on trial -- I describe how lobster processing, distribution, and retail sale will be revolutionized by technology.

To recap: in the name of treating lobsters humanely, Whole Foods has discontinued the sale of live lobsters. Instead, the gourmet food chain will sell processed lobster meat. That, of course, begs the question: what technology will be used to kill and process these lobsters behind the scenes? Will it be humane?

Here are the new death machines.

First, the CrustaStun.

It was designed and built in the UK in response to tightening animal-welfare laws intended to protect crustaceans from torture.

It zaps the lobsters with a jolt of electricity, rendering their nervous systems dysfunctional prior to cooking.

There is a "continuous flow" model, with a conveyor belt, to be used for industrial applications. There is also a small, individualized lobster killer for zapping one animal at a time. Got space on your kitchen counter, between the blender and coffee maker?

The CrustaStun has already received some press in a few newspapers and on a few websites. As gruesome as it sounds, the CrustaStun has received a humane stamp of approval.

But the lobsters processed for Whole Foods will not have the luxury of electrocution.

In fact, no one seems to have noticed the much bigger machine that has already started revolutionizing lobster processing -- the Avure HPP. Yet it is this extraordinary piece of technology that will be used to provide lobster meat for Whole Foods.


The Avure 687L. Too big for your kitchen.
These enormous devices, built by Avure Technologies, are called hydrostatic pressure processing (HPP) systems. They come in several models. The entrepreneur mentioned in my article, John Hathaway of Shucks Maine Lobster, is the proud owner of the Avure 215L -- which weighs 80,000 pounds and is 16 feet tall.

The HPP technology was initially developed by the U.S. Army to make better-tasting MREs ("meals ready to eat") for the troops. The science of it is relatively simple. If a piece of food is immersed in water, and the water is then squeezed to high enough pressure, pathogens and bacteria will be neutralized, but the food will be otherwise unaffected.

You press the start button on an Avure machine. Powerful pumps whir, and inside a narrow tube in the center of the machine, the water pressure is compressed to several times the pressure found in the deepest trenches in the ocean. The microscopic bugs in your meal all die, giving the food extended shelf life, and reducing the need for artificial preservatives.

These machines have been in use for a while already. If you've ever eaten Avoclasic guacamole or Hormel Natural Choice deli meats, you've eaten HPP food. HPP machines turn out to be handy for shucking shellfish, too -- the pressure causes the meat to separate from the shell.


The lobsters go in here.
What's new is using these machines to process live lobsters. The animals are locked inside the tube, alive, and the pumps whir and the water pressure is compressed around the lobsters to three times the deepest trenches in the ocean. The lobsters die, of course -- just think what the pressure on your ears is like when you dive a few feet underwater.

At the same time, all the muscle flesh inside the lobsters conveniently separates from the shell. For the first time in human history, people have finally devised way to extract the meat of a lobster without cooking it.

And that's what this Whole Foods thing is about. As I write in the Boston magazine article:
In 2005, the Maine Lobster Promotional Council commissioned a survey on people's attitudes toward lobster. Only 15 percent of Americans, mostly in the Northeast, qualified as 'traditionalists' who wanted their lobsters alive. An equally small number, just 13 percent, objected to the retail sale of live lobsters for reasons of cruelty. For Whole Foods, the smart business decision is to target the silent majority -- the 50 percent or so of Americans who would love to buy fresh lobster if only it were easier to prepare.
For Whole Foods, switching to processed, packaged lobster meat will earn them far more money than live lobsters ever did. At the same time, they are presenting it as an ethical choice, which will earn them maximim moral points.

In the meantime, it is this 40-ton U.S.-military-derived crushing machine the company will be relying on, in the name of treating lobsters humanely. To replace its live lobsters, Whole Foods has signed a deal with Clearwater Seafoods of Canada to sell shucked raw frozen lobster, processed using an Avure 687L (pictured above).

According to Avure, the water inside the machine can take from 30 to 45 seconds to reach maximum pressure, and it's unclear how long the animals endure inside -- while they undergo pressurization -- before they die. A spokesperson for Whole Foods told me this:
Whole Foods Market is currently working with a team that specializes in the physiological and welfare aspects of humane slaughter to have this machine evaluated and certified. Pilot studies with this machine suggest that the lobster is killed within seconds (rather than up to several minutes when using the traditional boiling-water cooking method). It is important to us that we ensure this is the case in order to remain consistent with our requirements for humane slaughter that we have established for all of the other species we sell.
It will be interesting to see if "seconds" turns out to be 30 seconds or three seconds. If it's more like 30 seconds, then I suspect that the only way to guarantee that lobsters are killed in a humane fashion for HPP processing would be to use both machines -- run the animals through the CrustaStun first, then load them into the Avure HPP.

When the lobsters come out of the Avure machine after a minute or two, the result is arresting. Every piece of meat can easily be extracted from the shell, raw and fully intact, including the leg muscles. After shucking, here is what the lobster looks like:


As a friend of mine put it: It's a crustacean without the crust.

The company in Maine I referred to above, Shucks Maine Lobster, even advertises the rather extraordinary possibility of eating "lobster spaghetti" -- which is to say, a heap of lobster leg flesh. Photo below.


My method of killing lobsters with a kitchen knife suddenly seems rather quaint, doesn't it?

Welcome to the future.

Comments (2)

- I'm a keen lobster hunter in Florida, and I'm afraid I just grip the lobster firmly in one hand, while twisting the tail off with another. I usually do this at the dock, the minute I get off the boat. (I feel marginally guilty about then reaming the tail with a piece of antenna to remove the vein, but I've gotten over the involuntary twitching). One time after a dive, an interested novice diver was watching the operation, and asked "Does it hurt?" I replied, "Not me!" In any case, I lose patience very quickly with all this "humane killing" mularky. All you need to do is watch animals eat each other in the wild to see how it's supposed to be done!

- We experimented with the HPP equipment to process crab meat but found that while the recovery of meat from the shell was excellent the process completely changed the texture and taste of the crab. The texture was rubbery and the flavor was altered to an inferior level compared to what we are used to. We also tried the machine on a Maine lobster with the same result, rubbery and less flavorful. The upside was that recovery was about one third better than hand picking.

John Wendt
Seatech corporation

Boiling Point


"When Whole Foods halted live-lobster sales last week, it was a sign of just how hot the debate over treatment of this New England icon has become. In July's Boston magazine, Trevor Corson reports from behind the lines of the growing 'lobster war.'"

Get my take on the Whole Foods ban on live lobster. Click here to read the article.

Monday, June 19, 2006

I Kill and Eat Ham, the World's Worst-Tasting Lobster

So now that Whole Foods Market has banned live lobster, what are our options? The animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA) recommends that we eat "Mock Lobster." This is a lobster made of soybeans.


My mock lobster, post-defrost. (At least you can still buy butter at Whole Foods.)

What the heck, I thought. I'll try one. I went online to visit May Wah Vegetarian Healthy Food, Inc., the retailer in Chinatown in New York City listed on PeTA's "Lobster Liberation" website.

There is a long tradition of Chinese "mock meats" for Buddhists. Years ago in Hong Kong, I'd eaten at a Buddhist restaurant that served imitation meat that was quite delicious. So I was looking forward to testing PeTA's claim that the mock lobster sold by May Wah tasted "just like the real thing."


When the lobster arrived, still frozen and packed in styrofoam, the label said in Chinese: "Ham Giant Dragon Shrimp." That sounded like the sort of monster that might battle Godzilla.

Having studied Chinese some years ago, I knew that "dragon shrimp" was the word for lobster in Chinese, but why was it called a "ham" lobster? I was stumped.

I shot off a query about this "ham" word to a friend of mine, a gastronome who also has a Ph.D. in Chinese studies. (I will let you know what I find out.) In the meantime, to celebrate my confusion, I decided to name the lobster Ham.

As it happened, I had been invited to a weekend barbecue -- bring your own meat for the grill -- so I took Ham along. Everyone was very intrigued when I pulled Ham out and showed him around. A few people played with Ham.

Then we laid Ham on the grill.

Despite the searing heat, Ham didn't scream. He didn't writhe in pain, or snap his tail or scratch his legs on the grill in agony. He just sat there. We watched for a while, and then it got kind of boring and we went back to our conversations.


Click here for Ham's nutrition facts.
After a while I took Ham off the grill. He still looked fine.

Now the hard part. I had to cut him to pieces with a big kitchen knife. I have to tell you, I felt awful slicing Ham. In our short time together, we had bonded.

So how did Ham taste?

Ham, I love you, but you tasted terrible. I mean, not spit-your-food-out terrible, but just . . . very lackluster. After all that, I just would have liked even the tiniest bit of lobster-like flavor.

Having conclusively repudiated PeTA's claim that mock lobster tasted "just like the real thing," I felt forlorn. It seemed unfair that vegetarians and animal-rights activists wouldn't be able to enjoy lobster just like the rest of us.


Let's rip him apart!
So imagine my delight when I discovered that a book group populated by vegetarians had read THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS and celebrated with a lobster constructed of vegetables! "Although we were intimidated for a while," says the meeting's report about the veggie lobster, "we eventually tore him limb from limb."

If that still sounds too gory for you, I highly recommend May Wah's shredded mock chicken. It makes a delicious stir-fry. And it looks nothing like a chicken.

Demise of Grocery-store Lobsters

"Unceremoniously, Whole Foods Markets, the largest natural-foods chain in the world, pulled its lobsters from their tanks last week and boiled them all. For the influential grocer, it was the final lobsterbake," writes Patrik Jonsson, masterfully, in an article in today's Christian Science Monitor.

Who ate them all? He doesn't say.

Jonsson goes on to quote me:

Where'd I come from?
"This is the end of an era, because the lobster is pretty much the last significant animal that [individuals] still have to kill [themselves] before [they] eat it," says Trevor Corson, author of THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS. . . . "I have a serious problem with anyone who's ever had a hamburger complaining about lobsters," Mr. Corson says. "The scientists who study lobsters all take them home and eat them."

What's more, Corson says, Whole Foods is failing to capitalize on one of its missions: connecting consumers to producers. Several Maine lobstermen are now printing their websites on lobsters' claw bands, so that buyers can go online and read a bio of the fisherman who caught their dinner. Such an opportunity for fisherman-consumer bonding is now lost by a chain that purports to value that connection, says Corson. "Whatever moral benefit we get from not having to deal with lobsters in our kitchens, we lose a larger awareness of where our food comes from," he says.
You can learn more about the web-based lobster tracking program I was referring to at Lobster Tales.org. Individual items of seafood, especially fish, are notoriously difficult to track from sea to plate; for example, scientific tests conducted last year by the New York Times revealed that much of the salmon sold as "wild" in New York City was actually farmed. This lobster tracking program is a rare and welcome exception.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

"Sellers Shrug at Lobster Ban"


Still in the club.
According to an article in today's Boston Globe, people in New England aren't taking the ban by Whole Foods on live lobsters very seriously.

Celebrated lobster chef Jasper White (who hosted the publication party for my book, THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS) called the move "pure silliness."

And a customer at James Hook, a lobster retailer on the Boston waterfront, had this reaction: "If they ban the lobsters, what's next? I boil them and I'll eat them until the day I die."

Comments (2)

- Last time I was at Kroger on Grand Parkway in Katy TX, they still had the lobster tank with live lobsters. I have no qualms about "boiling them alive". We Texans have been doing same to their smaller relatives, the mud bugs (crayfish to you folks east of us).

- The local Wal-Mart where I work dont sell Lobster anymore. But think they always had trouble with lobster tank. Not sure. . . . But Lobsters were big sellers.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Whole Foods Bans Live Lobster


Everything inside is dead.
In a press release yesterday, the Whole Foods Market gourmet grocery chain finally announced their big decision over whether or not to continue selling live lobster in their stores.

Last fall the company established a "Lobster Task Force" and stated that if it couldn't find a way to transport and store live lobsters in a way that satisfied stringent new conditions for humane treatment, it would remove live lobsters from all Whole Foods locations.

(I guess they won't be installing any of the new lobster arcade games.)

According to a New York Times report, the Safeway chain is also removing live lobsters. The reason? The company says live lobsters aren't a big seller.

Say goodbye to the last live animal you can buy at the supermarket.

Comments (1):

- I loved your book. I think it is absolutely ridiculous that people care so much about the treatment of a lobster. Have Whole Foods considered the hard working Americans that catch these sea bugs? Do they not care about their livelihood? Or is it easier to care about something we can't relate too . . . it makes me very sad and angry that we care about the things that don't really matter.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Lobster Arcade Game


Is that Vanna?
This is a long overdue update to my post on the Japanese lobster vending machine, known as Marine Catcher.

Similar machines are now being built and marketed in the U.S., under the name "The Love Maine Lobster Claw." The game is exactly like one of those arcade machines where you steer a three-pronged claw with a joystick in an attempt to snag a stuffed animal. Except this one involves a tank full of water and live lobsters.

Of course, animal-rights activists are incensed. An AP report brought the appearance of the American machines to my attention in February.


Put me down!
There are several versions of the machine vying for the apparently lucrative live-lobster arcade trade. Visit the website of Marine Ecological Habitats to watch a news clip about the game. You will see Mainers at a convenience store frantically twisting the joystick in their passionate attempts to catch a lobster. Ever considered the supermarket? [Oh, wait, that's not an option anymore -- lobsters have been banned from supermarkets.]

Two bucks buys you 30 seconds. They say it's addictive. And very difficult.

The machine costs around 15 grand, but Marine Ecological Habitats estimates that proud owners the new game can expect to clear an annual profit in the neighborhood of $18,780.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Notorious Bettie Page


Does this make you want to see the movie?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Magnetic Navigation


I've received some reader questions about whether lobsters can navigate their way around the seafloor using the earth's magnetic field.

As far as I know, clawed American lobsters cannot do this.

However, at least some species of spiny lobster (the ones without claws) do have this ability, and it is amazing. Read all about it.

Comments (1):

- This reminds me of a study I read about where scientists noticed freshly molted lobsters bumbling about for a while after shedding. Someone examined the molted skins and found rocks embedded in folds in the shell. So they had an experiment where lobsters would molt in either rock-filled or rock-free tanks. the lobsters that molted in rock-free tanks never came out of the "bumble-fish" stage, while the lobsters with rocks seemed to know their way around better.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Flawed Science on Its Way Out


End of an era?
THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS was partly a critique of the flawed science being used by government regulators to manage the lobster fishery. I received quite a bit of criticsm from some government scientists for my portrayal.

But since the book came out, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has been revamping lobster management, and on May 9 it announced that the old methods that my book criticized are being replaced. A lot of dedicated people have been working hard to improve the system.

You can download the ASMFC press release here.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Lobster Meets Lassie

Canine friends, rejoice! For decades, dogs have been missing out. No longer.


Other flavors
also available:
Lamb Meal &
Rice; Peanut
Butter
"Lobster Bisque-its let canine companions enjoy seafood" runs the headline of a recent article in the Bangor Daily News. The University of Maine's Lobster Institute has perfected a technique for extracting leftover meat from lobster shells.

"Typically," the article says, "when lobsters are processed, only the meat from the tail, claws, and knuckles are used.

"'The rest is sent to the landfill or used for lower-end types of applications, like compost,' Cathy Billings of the Lobster Institute explained. 'We wanted to to find a more profitable way for the industry to use that part of the lobster during the processing stages.'"

The Lobster Institute first considered a snack aimed at people. For example: lobster breakfast cereal. But the extracted lobster meal was "mushy, gray, [and] pasty."

Shucks.

The "bisque-its" are on sale from Blue Seal Feeds, Inc., for $4.99 for a four-pound bag.

I can certainly think of one event where they would be required eating: the Los Angeles Lobster Pet Parade.

Hungry? Ruff.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Lobsters Invade Maine Libraries, Kill Submarines


The secret life of Vera,
revealed
The public libraries of midcoast Maine chose The Kite Runner for last year's community read. This year the official selection for the 2006 Midcoast Maine Community Read was THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS.

Over the course of the winter, the libraries circulated about 600 copies of the book. This month, they hosted several weeks of lobster-themed events. On March 15th I gave back-to-back talks at two of the libraries.

What a blast! The library buildings were decorated inside with all manner of lobster of paraphernalia -- including actual lobster traps.


March Madness:
30 lobster-themed events
One of the children's librarians -- Vera -- marked the occasion by wearing her lobster hat and earrings and a bright red outfit. She was boiling over with enthusiasm. And the library staff were all equipped with SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS lapel badges.

Eighty people came to the first talk and 120 attended the second. I showed them my collection of underwater videos of lobsters and we talked about lobster love, science, and fishing.

After the evening talk, a young man with a military haircut approached me and explained that he was based at the nearby Brunswick Naval Air Station, and that he flew in a squadron that hunted submarines -- Commander Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing Five, to be exact.

He told me he was nervous. I'd made a joke during my talk about how I tried to avoid accummulating lobster paraphernalia. Well, he'd brought something to give me.


Sub killer
He need not have worried. Take a close look: it wasn't paraphernalia. It was one of the best lobster gifts I'd ever received: the patrol wing's squadron patch. What an honor.

Remember the scene at the beginning of THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS -- true story -- when a lobster attacks a nuclear submarine? Wow.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

"Tasty," the Abominable Snow Crab


Kiwa hirsuta rendered in muslin and fur.
(photo: Mediatinker)
Kristen, self-proclaimed Mediatinker, fell so in love with the newly discovered blond hairy lobster/crab Kiwa hirsuta (see previous entry) that within days of the announcement, she designed an extraordinarily lifelike stuffed-animal version. She has posted instructions so you can sew together your own at home! Its name is "Tasty" -- a fact that has yet to be ascertained.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Do Blonds Have More Fun?


Let me feel you: Kiwa hirsuta
According to a story hot off today's AP news wire, an undersea research team descended more than 7,000 feet in seas south of Easter Island last year and discovered a bizarre new type of lobster-like crustacean that not only has hair -- lots of it -- but is platinum blond. The lobster has long claws covered with fur, and is so unusual that the scientists decided it was necessary to create an entirely new taxonomic family to describe it.

However, that fuzzy stuff is not really fur at all. Each of those hairs are a seta, a sort of cross between a feeler and a sensor, and it's a good thing this critter has a lot of them, because the animal is blind (there's not much to see 7,000 feet down).

In fact, the experts tell me that this is not really a lobster. This critter probably evolved from a lobster of some sort, and represents a stage on the way to the development of crabs. There are others like it called "squat lobsters," which were common in the Jurassic, but lost out to crabs because the crabs did better in shallow water. Nowadays there are crabs all over the place, but these half-lobster/half-crab crustaceans are rare and -- like our new friend here -- often survive only in remote, deep areas of the ocean.

According to the AP article, the researchers gave this new crustacean the scientific name of Kiwa hirsuta. The family name, Kiwaida, apparently comes from Kiwa, the goddess of crustaceans in Polynesian mythology.

The Polynesians have a goddess of crustaceans? I was born into the wrong culture. If I don't make it to Christian heaven, surely she'll take me. Now I just need to find her shrine and sacrifice a copy of my book to her. I wonder what she looks like.

UPDATE:

A more detailed article from the BBC points out that the "hair" on the creature's legs might actually be for harboring bacteria that detoxify poisonous minerals around the deep-sea vents where this crustacean lives.

Comments (1)

I'm just disappointed that the press release didn't include the words "tasty" or "sumptuous."

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Lobsters F*cking in a Tent


I can't quite make out the male lobster's
dual genitalia in there, can you?
Folks, this one is just FYI. Some weirdo has set up a website that claims to be the home of a cult called "Lobsters F*cking in a Tent."

Sad to say, the intention of this site appears to be to lampoon in some bizarrely twisted way the novelist Dean Koontz. Being a writer as well (who gets routinely lampooned himself -- "Hey, it's the lobster guy!"), I hesitate to even link to such a thing. And yet . . .

. . . how can I resist? Because this is what it says:

"Lobsters and fun in a tent. (This is not a cult for everyone.) . . . You first have to acquire a tent. I personally prefer those big renaissance style ones in order to provide plenty of room. Next get yourself some lobsters, live or stuffed. I prefer stuffed mainly for safety purposes."

Ah, the internet. If you can shed any light on the connection between Dean Koontz and fornicating lobsters, by all means e-mail me. In the meantime, all apologies to Mr. Koontz.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Remote-Controlled Sharks: Next Navy Spies?


Jelle Atema, a Woods Hole biologist featured in THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS, was responsible for much of the research into lobster mating behavior and odor detection that I described in the book. You may remember how he was able to steer a lobster at will through a tank -- by mounting odor-release nozzles on the animal's head.


Run, it's Dr. Atema!
(photo: Gizmodo, The Gadget Blog)
Well, Dr. Atema's latest endeavor, as described on today's National Geographic website, is a $600,000 project funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to see if he can do the same thing with . . . sharks.

As in, mind control.

Neuroscientists already know how to steer a living rat around its cage by remote control, as reported in a Boston Globe article in 2004, when Atema's new shark research was just getting underway. The Globe pointed out that "there are some who will worry that, once researchers gain control over sharks, they will move on to humans."

Well, guess what. Remote control of humans is already being done, too, via something called galvanic vestibular stimulation.

As reported in the Nat'l Geo piece: "Atema said that, as with any scientific research, these studies raise ethical concerns that are best addressed by public forums."

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Lobsters are Back-Stabbing Lesbians

My inbox is full of e-mails from fans of a television show called "The L Word." Sadly, the "L" doesn't stand for "lobster." The show is about lesbians in Los Angeles. The e-mails all asked a version of the following question:

Q: On the television show "The L Word," a lobster fact was recently mentioned. One of the characters claimed that in a pot of boiling water, male lobsters would form ladders with their claws to try to escape from death while female lobsters would intentionally pull one another down so they would all die together. Since you dispelled the lobster myth from the TV show "Friends" -- that lobsters mate for life -- could you shed some light on this subject?


"The L Word" cast: We all die together
A: I tried contacting the writers of "The L Word," but I got no response. I assume they invented this "fact" to serve as a convenient allegory. I have never run across any scientific evidence remotely suggestive of its validity. The notion that lobsters would be able to choose altruism or vindictiveness toward each other in the face of death seems a bizarre and fantastical form of anthropomorphism.

I forwarded "The L Word" question to an expert at the University of Maine's Lobster Institute who has studied various issues related to the cooking of lobsters. He had a similar reaction.

But I am always ready to be surprised by new revelations about lobster behavior, and much of what we know about lobster life that is true seems equally unbelievable.

If anything, the situation with male and female lobsters ought to be the reverse. If you've read THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS, you know that female lobsters maintain a sort of sisterhood and cooperate; males just fight all the time. Draw your own conclusions about parallels with human behavior -- lesbian or otherwise.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Attack of the Technicolor Transgender Mutant Lobster

"I was looking at the colors of its shell and turned it over and thought, that's not right."


Half man half amazing.
(photo: Tom Walsh, Ellsworth American)
Those are the words of John Murphy, mechanic at Sorrento Lobster Inc., a lobster pound near Mount Desert Island, Maine. Sure, everyone else had noticed that the mutant lobster was half blue. Murphy turned it over and took a look-see at the mutant's privates.

Guess what? T'weren't just two different colors. That lobster was a he-she, too. One side was male. The other female.

An article about this mutant lobster in a local newspaper, the Ellsworth American, misidentified the animal as a hermaphrodite. A hermaphrodite either switches genders during a lifestyle change or has complete sets of both male and female genitalia. What this extraordinary lobster is experiencing is a condition known as gynandromorphy, in which the animal was accidently built with parts of both male and female plumping. I've written on gynandromorphs in a post called Gender Bender.

Apparently, the five-year-old daughter of the manager of the lobster pound took quite a liking to the genderly confused crustacean.

"She's constantly reminding me to say 'hello' when she can't do so herself," the manager said. "She's fascinated by it. In the eyes of a 5-year-old, it's like having a dragon."

A dragon?

The Lobster Institute at the University of Maine plans to try breeding the thing when it reaches sexual maturity. For what, an army?

Sadly, I have not been able to determine which side of the half-blue lobbie is the male side and which is the female.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Lobsters on Ice?

Regarding my recent post How to Kill a Lobster, one reader sent me this question:


Brrr.
"I'm wondering about the following comment you make:

"'Cool the lobster in the freezer for fifteen minutes or so.'

"Would this not be fifteen minutes of torture for the lobster?"

Lobsters are cold-blooded, so the temperature of their blood and their bodies is always changing to match the exact temperature of the water (or, in this case, air) around them. In nature, when ocean water cools, the lobster's blood cools at the same time, causing a slowing of the animal's heart rate, metabolism, activity, and appetite. The colder the water becomes, the colder and less active the lobster. One scientist I spoke with, who has conducted extensive studies of the affect of temperature on lobster physiology, said she thinks that lobsters experience less stress the colder they become.

Another scientist I spoke with noted that there still isn't much scientific literature on whether, and how, lobsters experience pain, so we just don't know. Judging from his observations, though, he added that as a lobster cools down, it does not have the ability to try to stay warm by shivering, etc., that, say, humans do, which leads him to think the lobster probably becomes "groggy" and less conscious as it gets colder. He also suspects that by the time a chef puts the lobster in the freezer for a few minutes, the animal is often already groggy from being out of water and having reduced oxygen. The analogy he drew to human experience would be the gradual loss of consciousness (followed eventually by death) that occurs when someone inhales carbon monoxide by running a car in a garage with the garage door closed. But he acknowledged that was just his opinion.

So if there is a definitive answer to the question, it will have to await the development of more sophisticated methods of research for determining what lobsters might actually be feeling.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

How to Kill a Lobster, Dedicated to David Foster Wallace

Since this post was written in December 2005, a lot has happened. David Foster Wallace committed suicide. And the way lobsters are sold, killed, and prepared is changing dramatically -- in How to Kill a Lobster, Redux, I discuss some of the freaky high-tech methods that have been devised for dispatching lobsters in the future. -Trevor

People don't like the idea of putting a live lobster in the pot. I am frequently asked about the most humane way to cook a lobster. I agree that lobsters shouldn't be boiled alive. That's why I'm going to explain how to kill the animal before you put it in the pot. And I'm going to show you photographs of how to do it properly.


Please note the lobster
on David's book appears
to have been boiled alive
-- it's red.
First I must mention the celebrated writer David Foster Wallace. Wallace has published a book of essays called Consider the Lobster. The book's title essay originally appeared in the August, 2004 issue of Gourmet magazine. Wallace can be a provocative and interesting writer, but this essay is rambling and factually inaccurate, and to my mind is little more than a cheap manipulation of the natural unease many people feel about killing and cooking lobsters (though it was an effective publicity stunt for Gourmet). I talked about the ethics of lobsters, and voiced a few criticisms of Wallace, in an interview with Salon last year.

Still, Wallace has a point: at least beef slaughterhouses make an effort to stun the cows before ripping them apart alive. That's why I advocate killing the lobster before cooking. Okay, now for the instructions I promised. Here is an illustrated demonstration, dedicated to David Foster Wallace. And yes, that's me in these pictures.

Step 1: Cool the lobster in the freezer for fifteen minutes or so. Lobsters are cold-blooded and their body temperature adapts to match the ambient temperature around them, with a corresponding slowing of their heart rate, metabolism, and neural functioning. Cooling the lobster prevents it from moving around while you're working, which is a lot safer, and results in some deadening of the animal's nervous system.

Step 2: Hold the lobster upside down and place the point of the knife between its hindmost legs.



Step 3: Thrust the knife straight down into the body.



Step 4: Slice down through the head, to split the front of the animal in half.



There you go, folks. That's the best -- and the most humane -- way to kill a lobster; this way, the animal will be dead before it hits the scalding water. (Wallace dismisses this knife technique, but like I said, it's what most of the pros do.)

A few additional pointers:

- You don't have to slice all the way through the last bit of shell to the cutting board -- leave the top of the lobster's shell intact for a more attractive presentation on the plate.

- If you execute the knife maneuver correctly, the claws and front legs should go instantly limp. But be aware that because lobsters have a decentralized nervous system, the tail and hind legs may continue to twitch. (If that bothers you, remember that this is an animal equivalent to a mosquito. If it still bothers you, you should probably consider eating mock lobster.)

- Immediately after you kill the lobster, put it in the pot to boil, as you would have with the live animal.

WARNING: Working with live animals and large knives can be tricky. Try this at your own risk. I make no claims to be a qualified instructor of culinary butchery, and I will not be responsible if you hurt yourself while attempting to replicate the techniques described here. If you're at all uncomfortable with the idea of implementing this technique, stick to the boiling alive, okay? Better that the lobster gets hurt than you.

On the other hand, for those of you who crave additional drama and heroism in your kitchen, there are, of course, even more exciting ways to kill a lobster:


Maxfield Parish, untitled, cover linings for Poems of Childhood
by Eugene Field, 1904.

Incidentally, the lobster being dispatched in the photos above was one of four enjoyed as Christmas Eve dinner with my family, during my annual trek home for the holidays. The lobsters were caught in the waters around Little Cranberry Island, perhaps even by some of the lobstermen described in my book, and they were delicious.


Prepared the humane way.
(photo: Trevor Corson)
What is really sad about David Foster Wallace's essay on lobsters from Gourmet is that he misses the point about lobsters as food. Live lobster is one of the last feasts still harvested in a sustainable fashion directly from nature by individuals, not corporations, and sold absolutely fresh, without processing.

Gourmet magazine . . . hello? Earth to Ruth Reichl?

P.S. For more of my thoughts on PETA and lobster pain, see my earlier blog entry on the subject. And don't take my word for all this. What follows is a statement prepared by Dr. Neville Gregory, who received an award from England's Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

(At the time Dr. Gregory prepared the following statement on lobsters, he worked in the Animal Welfare and Stress department of the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. New Zealand has a significant fishery for spiny lobsters.)
The Humane Way to Kill a Lobster
by Dr. Neville Gregory

The appropriate way to humanely kill a lobster is to chill it, then kill it by either splitting or spiking it.

Chefs using this method can be sure that they are killing the lobsters humanely, while preparing good quality lobster meat.

Any animal killed for meat consumption must be killed humanely. This means the animal must not be stressed when being handled, should be held at the place of slaughter for only a short time under appropriate conditions, and the killing method must not cause pain or distress prior to death.

Many seafood shops and restaurants and also private citizen chefs kill lobsters inhumanely.

Eight common procedures are used to kill lobsters, usually with two or more methods combined. These were chilling, drowning, spiking, chest spike, splitting, and tailing, freezing, and boiling (definitions listed below).

Freezing or boiling methods affect the quality of the meat. Boiling lobsters alive tends to make the meat chewy while freezing makes the meat lose its fresh appearance. Both are inhumane.

Lobsters need to be chilled before being killed.

Being cold blooded, chilling the lobster helps reduce nerve function and metabolic activity. When it is fully chilled, the lobster will stop moving and no longer responds to being handled.

After chilling a lobster, split it along its length where it has two chains of nerve ganglia, with interconnecting nerves along its body under the shell. Chilling beforehand prevents the lobster from moving which avoids mistakes during splitting -- otherwise it is hard to achieve a humane kill in an unchilled animal.
Comments? E-mail me.

Comments (2)

- A note to say thank you. I just executed 5 lobsters exactly as you suggested, and I now agree with you. Its a quick and efficient method. I tried a number of other methods, with spiking being the most gruesome by far, and this worked the quickest and cleanest. Grazie tante!

- I thought I'd send a note to tell you I enjoyed your post on humanely killing a lobster. I haven't fully explored your blog yet but I will bookmark it for sure. I LOVE lobster. I lived in lobster-land (boston) for 28 years, so. (They are on the level of mosquitos? I had no idea.)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Lobster Boat Bottom Dollar Burns and Sinks Offshore; Jack Merrill Survives His Jump into the Frigid Sea

The lobstering community of Little Cranberry Island received a shock on Monday, December 12, when Jack Merrill's lobster boat went up in flames while he was fishing fifteen miles offshore. Jack and his sternman had to throw themselves into the frigid sea to avoid being burned alive.

Readers of THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS will know Jack Merrill well -- he is one of the book's main characters. A number of important scenes in the book occurred aboard Jack's boat the Bottom Dollar. It is sad, and strange, to think that the Bottom Dollar now rests at the bottom of the sea. But it's a relief that Jack and his sternman Les are safe.

The details of the dramatic fire and rescue were reported today in the local newspaper, the Mount Desert Islander. The article is below.


A Coast Guard crewman attempts to douse the flames erupting
from the burning lobster boat Bottom Dollar. Despite the efforts,
Jack Merrill's boat eventually sank in more than 200 feet of water.
Jack and his sternman were forced overboard before being rescued.
(photo: U.S. Coast Guard)

FAST FIRE SENDS MEN OVERBOARD

by Craig Crosby
Mount Desert Islander
(reproduced with permission)

December 15, 2005

MOUNT DESERT ROCK - Jack Merrill believed he and Bottom Dollar would fish together for as long as he continued to haul traps.

But under an overcast sky on Monday, between Great Duck Island and Mount Desert Rock, Mr. Merrill watched in stunned horror as the boat that had provided his livelihood for more than 20 years went up in smoke, taking Mr. Merrill's plans along with it.

"I thought it would be the boat I would fish out of the rest of my life," Mr. Merrill said. Now the 54-year-old Mount Desert lobster fishermen is looking to start over.


Jack Merrill, at a happier
moment. (photo: courtesy of
Commercial Fisheries News)
He is unsure what went wrong, and now that Bottom Dollar, a 40-foot boat designed by Young Brothers of Corea, is resting at the bottom of the ocean, he is unlikely to ever know. What he is sure of is that he just experienced some of the most frightening minutes of his life.

Mr. Merrill called fisherman Bruce Damon a little before 10 a.m. on Monday to report that his boat was having engine problems and that he was steaming for home. Moments later, while still approximately 15 miles off shore, Mr. Merrill noticed smoke rising from below and went down to investigate. The flames were already licking the underdecking. Mr. Merrill instructed the only other person on the boat, sternman Les Ricker of Mount Desert, to prepare the survival suits as Mr. Merrill emptied two new fire extinguishers, and then water, on the growing flames. Mr. Ricker also filled two lobster traps with buoys, which the men would later use for floatation.

The men had little time in which to work. Roughly 10 minutes elapsed from the time Mr. Merrill first noticed the smoke until he and Mr. Ricker were forced to don their survival suits and jump overboard into the 45-degree water. Worse still, the flames had knocked out Bottom Dollar's radio, leaving the men helpless to send a mayday alert.


Jack Merrill unloading lobsters
aboard the Bottom Dollar at the
Cranberry Isles Fishermen's Co-op
on Little Cranberry Island,
October 2004.
(photo: Sarah Corson)
"It caught on fire and I tried everything I could to put it out," Mr. Merrill said, sounding almost apologetic for the failure. "It's a pretty shocking thing to have happen."

About a mile and a half away, lobster fisherman Joey Wedge of Tremont and his sternman, Chris Curran of Cranberry Isles, working aboard the 38-foot Austin Marie, had heard Mr. Merrill's initial radio message about his engine trouble. Moments later the men began to see plumes of smoke and motored over in the Bottom Dollar's direction.

"We just saw a lot of smoke and stuff," Mr. Wedge said. "We thought he was having engine trouble. We thought we were going to tow him in. I was pretty scared once we realized he was on fire. You couldn't really see anything because there was so much smoke and stuff. I'd never seen anything like that before and I hope it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Mr. Wedge's boat was the first on the scene and at first he couldn't spot Mr. Merrill or Mr. Ricker, who were on the opposite side of the burning boat.

"Within five minutes of being in the water the Austin Marie came alongside and pulled us out," Mr. Merrill said. "It was a quick response. I'm thankful for that."

Minutes later the Austin Marie was joined by nearly a dozen other fishing boats, all ready to lend a hand and make sure their fellow fishermen were safe.

"I want to thank the fleet for responding as quickly as they did," Mr. Merrill said.

At U.S. Coast Guard Station Southwest Harbor, crewmen aboard the fishing vessel Crazy Water reported Bottom Dollar's distress at 10:10 a.m. Coast Guard crews launched their 41-foot utility boat, but Mr. Merrill and Mr. Ricker had already been plucked from the water by the time the Coast Guard arrived.


Seaman Christopher Laramee (left)
and Boatswain Todd Chilton spray water
onto the burning Bottom Dollar from
a Coast Guard utility boat Monday about 15
miles southeast of Mount Desert Island.
(photo: U.S. Coast Guard)
"The boat was burning when the 41 got on scene," said Lt. J.G. Gerald Hewes. "The Coast Guard policy, normally, is we don't fight fires except to save life, but we knew the boat had 100 gallons of fuel on board. We tried to extinguish the fire, but the boat wound up sinking."

"[The Coast Guard crews] stayed with me and the boat until it went down," Mr. Merrill said. "They were very helpful."

Lt. Hewes believes the fuel will have a minimal effect. "Right now we're not super concerned about the environmental impact," he said. "It's a fairly small fuel spill."

The Coast Guard crew was forced to abandoned the fire-fighting effort when Bottom Dollar's emergency flares began exploding, said Southwest Harbor fisherman Glenn Gilley, who, with sternman Zack Damon, arrived on the scene aboard Mr. Gilley's Amy Sui. Monitoring another radio channel, Southwest Harbor fishermen believed the smoke was from a fire on Mount Desert Rock.

"I didn't go immediately because I knew he had already been picked up," Mr. Gilley said. "When I got there the black smoke had settled down. The whole cabin top was missing. Downwind, the flames had caught the outside of the hull on fire."


Jack Merrill shows his bottom
aboard the Bottom Dollar as he
adjusts safety equipment on the boat's
roof in the summer of 2003.
(photo: Trevor Corson)
Mr. Merrill had fished with Bottom Dollar since he had her built in 1980. The boat was insured, but that does not alleviate the uncertainty. Mr. Merrill has received calls from people offering boats, but right now he's unsure of his next step.

"I don't know my plans," he said. "I'll be up and fishing sometime soon hopefully. I'll be fine. It will just take awhile to get my head back."

Though Mr. Merrill and Mr. Ricker were in the water for just a few minutes, the outcome could have been much different had the men not been wearing survival suits. Fishermen commonly stow the suits below deck, but if Mr. Merrill had followed that practice he and Mr. Ricker would have gone into the water with just their clothes, unable to reach the suits. Instead, Mr. Merrill kept the suits at the cabin's aft end, on the port side, where they were readily accessible when the flames erupted.

"If I had a message for people, it would be to keep your survival suits in a place they can be readily accessed," Mr. Merrill said.

News of Mr. Merrill's close call rattled the fishing community. Bottom Dollar is the first boat lost out of Islesford [Little Cranberry Island], from where Mr. Merrill fished, since Roland Sprague and Freddy Fernald died in March roughly 47 years ago.

"It makes everyone a lot more aware of their safety stuff," Mr. Wedge said. "I think Jack and Les handled themselves very well to get in their suits. It definitely makes people think. It's something I'll never forget."

Friday, December 02, 2005

Where's Your "Maine" Lobster Really From?


November issue of
The Working Waterfront.
Some of you may have read John McPhee's article on the United Parcel Service in The New Yorker last spring. If you did, you'll remember the way the article opened, with a trademark McPhee description of how thousands of lobsters are sorted and held for shipment at a giant Clearwater Seafood processing facility in Nova Scotia, Canada.

In fact, most Maine lobster now comes to consumers via Canada. According to an article in last month's issue of The Working Waterfront, a monthly newspaper published by the Island Institute in Rockland, Maine, "as much as 70 percent of lobsters landed in Maine are heading to Canada, where they are being processed and shipped back to the U.S. as Canadian product." You can read this interesting article here.

Also, in the December issue of The Working Waterfront there is a follow-up article on Maine's efforts to combat the weakening of Maine's "lobster brand," including efforts to get Maine lobsters officially certified; you can read that article here.

Monday, November 07, 2005

18-karat Claw


In lieu of green eggs & ham,
feel free to inject yourself
with lobster essence.
(photo: Raymond Meier)
In case, like most lobstermen, you missed the fall '05 issue of the New York Times Style Magazine, this is what was on the cover.

Here's what it said inside:

"The 'lobster injection' created by Katsuya Fukushima and his team of cooks from Minibar in Washington, D.C. The laboratory pipette is filled with lobster essence. Not included when you order: Chanel Fine Jewelry 18-karat white-gold-and-diamond ring, $4,950. At Chanel Fine Jewelry boutiques."

Whatever.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Lobster Video Game


Tired of Doom, Halo, and Battlefront? Try Boston.com's 10th anniversary lobster video game, called the "Lobster Bash."

According to the site:

"A lobster of historic proportions has escaped with cake and gifts destined for Boston.com's birthday party. . . . The giant beast then headed for the Charles River inlet, nearly capsizing several tour boats. Captain James Scollay, who has long hunted this colossal pest" -- is there a Melville novel I missed? -- "vows to return the stolen items."

You are Captain Scollay. Above you the giant lobster is tossing birhtday presents and lit candles into the river. Your mission: catch the presents, and aim water balloons to extinguish the flaming candles, before they incinerate innocent sailboats drifting below.

By the way, currently eight of the top ten high scores are held by "Joe," who apparently gets 14,000 points every time he plays.

If you want to challenge Joe, you should be afraid. Very afraid. This giant lobster roars.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Japanese Lobster Vending Machine


Catch me if you can.
Japan has achieved some notoriety for the variety of items that can be purchased on the street from vending machines. The things you can buy from vending machines in Japan include beer, but also the used panties of high school girls.

Apparently you can also purchase a specimen of "robusuta," if you have enough coins. Last weekend BoingBoing blogged the existence of a vending machine in Japan that sells live lobsters. I haven't confirmed this independently, but here's the photo, and it does appear to be exactly that.

Comments (1):

I won't be impressed until I can get a live lobster from a Pez dispenser.

Monday, September 26, 2005

To Live and Die in L.A.


I wish they all could be
California girls.
(photo: Oliver Danner)
Here I am in L.A., taking a break from interviewing some of the Hollywood talent that is lining up to star in the forthcoming film adaptation of THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS.

Okay, so only the first part of that sentence is true.

Here I am in L.A., posing with two human-sized lobsters at the Redondo Beach Lobster Festival, where I signed copies of my book (and got in a visit with my brother, who lives in Manhattan Beach).

Okay, so the first part of that sentence is false.

Those aren't actually human-sized lobsters. They are professional lobster impersonators. (Maybe I could get a job doing that?) But they sure made me feel like the alpha male lobster of the neighborhood. My thanks to them and the festival organizers -- who run GiveLobster.com -- for the warm welcome.

I was even given a tour of the festival's custom-built lobster cooker, which is so big it sits on a truck trailer. The builder claims it's the largest lobster cooker in the country. Hundreds of lobsters were steamed to death in each batch that was lowered into the boilers.

So guess what, New Englanders: Californians love their dead lobster as much as you do. Maybe more.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Lobster Hotline


"Hi, I'd like to place an order. Yes,
with melted butter."
(photo: Trevor Corson)
On the ferry from Provincetown to Boston this summer I spotted this cell phone, sitting unattended on a table. I hung around for a few minutes to see if the phone's owner would appear, but no one did.

Every time I think that I must be the most lobster-dedicated individual on the planet, I get trumped. If anyone should have a lobster cell phone it's me, and yet there I was, caught looking like a chump, no lobster on my cell phone.

Come to think of it, I don't even own a lobster necktie. I mean, come on Corson, they sell those at J. Crew.

On several occasions, guests have even shown up to attend my talks around New England wearing lobster pants. The owners tend to be the more elderly gentlemen who appear to belong to country clubs. But if I really put my mind to it, couldn't I start a lobster pants craze among the young?

All it takes is one lobster cell phone, and then . . .

Speaking of lobsters and cell phones, I recently gave a pair of fuzzy stuffed-animal lobsters to the daughters of a Japanese friend of mine who lives in Tokyo. The girls liked the fact that the lobsters matched their Hello Kitty cell phones.


"Hello, Kitty?"
"No, this is lobster."
(photo: Trevor Corson)
Despite my best efforts to explain that lobsters actually communicate by urinating in each other's faces (a fact that I thought I'd established beyond a doubt in my book), the girls were not deterred, as you can see.

Apparently in Japan, even lobsters, along with most schoolgirls above the age of five, now keep in touch primarily by mobile phone.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Giving Gluttony a Bad Name


The 98-pound Sonya Thomas
(photo: Joel Page, AP)
In THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS I tell the story of one lobster lover who ate fifteen of the animals in one sitting. Now this, reported in the August 14 edition of USA Today:

KENNEBUNK, Maine (AP) - A week after she gorged on bratwurst and grilled-cheese sandwiches, one of the world's top competitive eaters gobbled down 44 lobsters in 12 minutes Saturday to set a new speed-eating record.

Read the entire article.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Dress Your Dogs in Red Corduroy and Denim


Growl, I can't wait
to shed my shell.
The Port of Los Angeles Lobster Festival will be featuring a Lobster Pet Parade on Saturday, September 17. If you're interested in entering your pet, here are the LOBSTER PET PARADE RULES:

1. No Floats Allowed.
2. Dog(s) dressed as a Sea Creature or Seafood.
3. No costumes used in previous Lobster Pet Parade contests.
4. No store bought costumes. Handmade outfits are welcomed.
5. One entry pass given to you and one guest. Total of two (2). If you have additional guests with you, they must pay the entry fee at the main entrance to the Lobster Festival.
6. Only costumed dogs are allowed in the event and only for participation in the parade and judging.

Wait, handmade costumes only? Seriously, have you ever seen a store that sells lobster suits for dogs?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Bust a Nut


A feather in my cap that
I never thought I'd have.
The mass-market men's mag FHM ("For Him Magazine") takes note of THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS in its September issue, in between pics of bikini-clad babes. "Keep the cost of her meal in check with these nauseating facts from Trevor Corson's book," the tag line reads. The feature goes on to discuss, among other things, the finer points of lobster urination, a fun-filled subject you'll be familiar with if you've read the book.

But my thought is this: if you consider urination to be an appropriate conversation-starter during a dinner date, and/or if your goal on a date is to prevent the lady from ordering something special and delicious, then yes, you deserve to be sitting at home reading FHM.

But I'm being ungrateful. Instead of sitting at home salivating over bikini-clad babes, I do hope readers of FHM will pick up a copy of THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS and discover that the book shares something with their favorite magazine: sex and information in one convenient package.

I worry, though, that FHM readers may feel inadequate after reading the final factoid in the magazine's feature: "Male lobsters have two penises and take a mere eight seconds to bust a nut. Studs."

Monday, August 01, 2005

"There is nothing grosser than biting into a frozen chunk of lobster in your ice cream."

The Washington Post ran an article the other day about the Udder Delight Ice Cream House in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. They serve bacon ice cream.


If the creator of Ben & Bill's lobster
ice cream sculpture had read THE
SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS, he or
she would have known that a lobster's
teeth are not in its mouth; they're
inside its stomach.
(photo: Sarah Corson)
Big deal. You think that's disgusting?

Try lobster ice cream.

Ben & Bill's Chocolate Emporium is located in Bar Harbor, Maine, a tourist mecca near Little Cranberry Island, where THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS takes place. It being lobster country, Ben & Bill's serves -- yes -- lobster ice cream.

A freelance writer named Kim Knox Beckius has written an essay about Ben & Bill's lobster ice cream. You should read it if you're seriously considering sampling this unique Maine delicacy. But you should also know that Kim is not only a self-described "proud New Englander" -- which might color her opinion -- but also someone who admits to having a "rather intense fondness for lobster."

That's an understatement. Consider Kim's online wedding photo album, where you can see that her ringbearer was a lobster and her flowers were a lobster bouquet. Oh, and after the ceremony, she was photographed in her wedding dress with a giant inflatable lobster.

And I thought I was obsessed with lobsters. It's too bad that Kim has married someone else, because we are clearly soulmates. Lucky man.

In her essay on lobster ice cream, Kim concludes that the taste is:

"How shall I say this delicately . . . disconcerting. Bruce, who shared a cup of Ben & Bill's signature lobster flavor with me, wasn't quite as diplomatic in his reaction. I believe his candid analysis was, 'There is nothing grosser than biting into a frozen chunk of lobster in your ice cream!'"

But Kim continues:

"I know; lobster ice cream still sounds intriguing to you."

It does?

Comments (1):

Lobster ice cream is simply, well, sorta delicious. Ok, well, it's good, and kinda different, but not gross by any stretch. I ordered some while up in Bar Harbor last month and my wife tried it, not knowing what it was. She stated, "That's good, what it is?" Of course, once I informed her what it was, she told me it was disgusting. What could be better than bits of lobster meat with frozen butter cream?? Well, honestly, a lot of things, but that's beside the point. Lobster Lovers unite, and give way to a new generation of ice cream!

Chad
Conifer, Colorado

Saturday, July 23, 2005

What Would Lobsters Drive?


If this van's a rockin' . . .
(photo: Trevor Corson)
I had been thinking that one of these days, I ought to make up some sort of lobster bumper sticker that I could hand out at my talks.

But then I saw this van.

Why stop at a bumper sticker, when you could inscribe a gigantic lobster right on the side of your car? If only I'd had one of these on book tour.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

CBS News: THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS Is Hotter Than a Harlequin Romance

That is the verdict of CBS correspondent Mika Brzezinski. In a segment about THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS that aired on CBS's weekly program Sunday Morning last fall, Brzezinski introduced the book with the words:


Lobsters on TV!
"For hot stuff, you can pick up a Harlequin romance -- all fiction. Or, you can read Corson's book, THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS -- all fact!"

My favorite review quote ever! Mika, I can attest, is quite hot herself. Being interviewed by the lovely and whip-smart daughter of former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski was a thrill.

The reason I'm telling you this is that you can see it all again, if you missed it the first time around. CBS Sunday Morning is scheduled to re-air the segment about THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS this coming weekend. You'll also be treated to entertaining interviews with lobsterman Bruce Fernald and the lobster scientist Diane Cowan -- both of whom are characters in THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS -- as well as cool underwater footage of lobsters in the sea. Check your local listings for show times.

If you miss it on TV, you can always read the show's transcript.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Tasty Carnage for the Fourth of July

I took a vacation over the Fourth of July weekend -- the first vacation it seems like I've taken in a blue moon.


Lobsters, fire trucks, and flags.
What more do you need?
(photos: Trevor Corson)
Book promotion doesn't leave much time for lollygagging, so it was a relief to get a little break. I spent my vacation back home in Maine. Took a few hikes in Acadia National Park; did some reading. Gorgeous weather.

On Monday I rode the ferry out to Little Cranberry Island for the annual Fourth of July picnic, a fundraiser for the island's Neighborhood House Association (in the old days it was called the "Grange").


The lobster killers.
(photo: Trevor Corson)
The island fire truck was parked out in the town field, with a squad of delighted toddlers clambering over it, all of them ready to spring into action in case of emergency. A couple hundred people were there, most of them chowing on freshly boiled lobster, coleslaw, and potato chips. I saw some of the folks depicted in THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS -- Bruce and Barb Fernald, Jack Merrill -- along with many other acquaintances.


Before; after.
(photos: Trevor Corson)
The carnage at the picnic was terrific. Cratefuls of live lobsters were transferred in batches into two steaming pots powered by propane -- then transferred, bright red, into an Igloo insulated chest to keep them hot. Before being served, each lobster had its claws whacked with a cleaver for ease of eating. I have never seen such efficient mass murder in the service of such a worthy cause. My Little Cranberry Island lobster was delicious.


Whack! Now that's patriotism.
(photo: Trevor Corson)
Afterwards there were fireworks in nearby Somes Sound, the only fjord on America's east coast. A flotilla of lobster boats, yachts, and motor boats paraded into the sound to watch the display. The number of boats squeezed into the sound was nearly as impressive as the pyrotechnics.

A Summer Bestseller on the Beaches of New England: Lobster Romance

Good news: THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS is number seven on the New England Booksellers Association paperback bestseller list!


New England is lobster country.
(photo: Trevor Corson)
Thank you, independent booksellers. And thank you, readers, for supporting your local independent bookstore.

I hope you all are enjoying your racy beach read. As the Associated Press put it:

"In passages befitting a beach scene in a steamy romance novel, Corson writes about the rough-and-tumble affair [of lobster mating]. . . . Who would have thought lobsters were such passionate lovers?"

Indeed. It's turning out to be a hot summer.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Hello, Barbara Ann (or: Damn, this thing is fast)


The Barbara Ann at the wharf.
(photo: Sarah Corson)
For the first time, I was treated to a short trip aboard Bruce Fernald's new lobster boat, the Barbara Ann. The boat's namesake -- Bruce's wife Barb -- was along for the ride. This particular hull design is known for its speed, and I can personally attest to the fact that the new boat cranks. I miss the Double Trouble -- the boat I worked on for two years while I was researching THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS -- but I would definitely not turn down a job aboard this spacious and speedy new craft. Bruce, those seventy-hour weeks grinding fiberglass paid off.


This thing hauls ass! Bruce at the helm; wife Barb in her old position as
sternman. Their at-sea courtship is described in THE SECRET LIFE
OF LOBSTERS. (photo: Trevor Corson)

Friday, July 01, 2005

Lobster + Magnet = . . . Rock 'n Roll?


Do lobsters really stick to magnets?
Alert reader Dan Widrew sent me this, um, animated lobster music video. Be sure to have the volume on your computer turned up really loud.

I have tasked myself with serving as the world's explainer of weird lobster stuff, but I have to admit, on this one I'm stumped. What's your theory for why this video exists? Help me out, here, folks.

Boy, I can't wait to see this on MTV!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Leo, and the Lovely Ladies of Lancaster


Ellsworth, Maine.
Phew, just finished up several weeks of nearly nonstop running around, promoting the paperback edition of THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS. I have a few more events to do on Cape Cod later in the summer, and at least one more in Maine, but for the next week or two I can actually stay home and try to get some work done for a change -- until it's time for me to leave for L.A.

Thanks to all who came out for my events. Big audiences make it more fun, and the packed halls these past couple of weeks have been great. Particularly fantastic turnouts at Port in a Storm bookstore on Mount Desert Island, at Ellsworth Public Library nearby, and at the York County Audubon Society in Wells, Maine.

The barn in which I gave
my talk at Laudholm Farm.
(Wish I had taken this picture but
I didn't; found it on the web.)
Special thanks to Rich and Ellen Chasse of Kennebunk Book Port for coming out to the gorgeous Laudholm Farm and nature reserve to sell books at my Audubon talk.

Thanks, too, to Andy at Bookstacks bookstore in Bucksport, Maine, for his warm welcome during my signing there. I had the honor of sitting around the sunny store swapping stories with a few locals, who relaxed on Andy's couch while I showed them underwater videos on my laptop of lobsters having sex. Andy is a huge supporter of THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS, and had copies of the new paperback edition filling his front window.


Leo the cat at Bookstacks
in Bucksport, Maine. Note the
homemade metal lobster claw
Leo is sitting on.
(photo: Trevor Corson)
Andy told me that a Bucksport resident had been walking down Main Street, saw THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS display, and came back a few minutes later with a metal lobster claw that he'd hand-welded previously -- it had been an art project, I gathered. The metal claw went straight into the window display with the books. This is why I love visiting small towns in Maine. Pictured here is the bookstore's mascot, Leo the cat, who decided that the metal lobster claw would make a first-rate seat cushion for soaking up the afternoon sun. You can just make it out under his front paws.


Me with the lovely ladies
of Lancaster.
At my talk in Ellsworth, it was a special treat to meet a book club that had come all the way from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to hear my talk. Well, sort of -- the club had decided to take a Maine vacation together. Of course, that meant they had to choose a book about Maine to read. I was thrilled that they picked THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS, and they were thrilled that they happened to be in Maine when I was speaking in Ellsworth. They said they liked the slides and underwater videos I showed during my talk, and none of them seemed especially scandalized by my digressions on the ins and outs of lobster mating. In fact, they seemed rather to enjoy it.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Ever Heard of a Turducken?

According to FoodReference.com, a turducken is a Cajun specialty from the south central part of Louisiana, composed of a 20-25 pound turkey stuffed with a 4-5 pound duckling, stuffed with a 3-4 pound chicken with three cups oyster dressing inside the chicken, 7 cups andouille dressing between the chicken and the duck and 4 cups cornbread dressing between the duck and the turkey.


Peep, peep.
I first heard of turduckens when a friend of mine ordered one for Thanksgiving. I've not had the opportunity to partake of a turducken yet myself. In fact, I had all but forgotten about turduckens until the other day, when I saw a news item that suggested the seafood equivalent has been invented. Not only invented, but rendered larger than life -- as fine art.


Salbster. Serves 50.
The June 16, 2005 edition of the Mount Desert Islander, a local newspaper that serves several communities including Little Cranberry Island, ran this item and the accompanying photograph:

"Sculpture Show: Lizz Godfroy of Leapin' Lizard Gallery in Bar Harbor shows off her sculpture, 'Sam in Disguise' -- a salmon in a lobster costume -- sponsored by the Union River Lobster Pot Restaurant in Ellsworth."

Let me repeat: a salmon in a lobster costume. Never mind what might prompt a salmon to wear a lobster costume. Or, for that matter, what the salmon was attempting to hide from by donning a lobster costume. At any rate, Lizz Godfroy's lobster-sculpting talents are clearly impressive -- that is a damn good sculpture of a lobster. But this "salmon in disguise" is, when you come down to it, just a fish stuffed inside a lobster, although judging by the photo I'd say we are talking at least a 100-pound lobster here. So, in the proud tradition of the turducken, I propose we call this not by the cryptic term "salmon in disguise," but that we declare it a "salbster."

Or wait, would it be a "lobmon"?

Either way, it looks and sounds, um, delicious. Although I suppose the preparation would be a bitch.

Comments (1):

- WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT: what sounds delicious about a salmon in a lobster?! it sounds horrifying! against nature! TOTALLY different than the Turducken. actually given the likelihood that the salmon in question is surrounded not by tender lobster flesh, but by carapace, i think it actually should just be called a "stealthed salmon."

Beantown Rocks

Boston, I love you. You put THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS on the Boston Globe's paperback bestseller list this week. Number eight, baby. Thank you, readers. And go Sox!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Warren's Funeral


This photo of Warren was displayed
at the entrance to the Little Cranberry
Island grange, where the community
gathered after the funeral to share
reminiscences.
I managed to get to Little Cranberry Island to attend Warren Fernald's graveside funeral service on Monday. When I arrived in the harbor around noon aboard the ferry, the Island Queen -- a boat I've been riding since I was a little boy -- Bruce Fernald had just unloaded some lobsters and was putting his new boat on the mooring. I caught up with him in the parking lot at the head of the wharf. He was about to climb into his rusting old pickup, head home, and change from his smelly fishing clothes into a coat and tie for his father's funeral.

"Good that you got in a morning of fishing today," I said.

Several lobster traps and
a bunch of Warren's buoys decorated
his gravesite during the service.
He was buried next to his mother,
who died when he was a boy.
(photo: Sarah Corson)

Bruce nodded.

"It's what he would have wanted me to do," he said.

In the cemetery an hour later, someone remarked that it was the most people he'd ever seen at a graveside service anywhere. The crowd overflowed into the street. I saw old acquaintances I hadn't seen for years. The weather was spectacular. It was sad, but Warren's wife Ann seemed profoundly energized by the gathering of souls in remembrance of her husband.

After the service I waited in a long line to throw a handful of dirt into Warren's grave.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Warren Fernald, 1927-2005


Warren Fernald at his workbench
(photo: Sarah Corson)
I first went lobstering at the age of six, when the patriarch of the Little Cranberry Island lobstermen, Warren Fernald, took me out to haul traps. Warren nurtured an entire generation of lobstermen on Little Cranberry -- including three of his own children -- and taught them to fish responsibly, fairly, and to care for the resource that sustained them. When I was researching THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS, I spent two years lobstering with Warren's son, Bruce. Anyone who has read the book knows Warren through my portrayal of him in the story.

Warren passed away this week, early on the morning of June 14, succumbing to cancer; he died peacefully in his hospital bed. Warren remained on Little Cranberry Island until just a few days before his death, receiving visits from an endless stream of family and friends. In many ways Warren was responsible for the continued existence of the year-round fishing community on Little Cranberry. And needless to say, THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS might never have been written without his influence.


Rest in peace,
great lobsterman.
(photo: Sarah Corson)
Warren used to build his lobster traps at a workshop down on the wharf, where summer tourists frequently stopped to chat with him and ask him questions about lobstering. The spot was also a favorite hang-out for some of Warren's friends on the island. One day, one of Warren's friends, a former lumberjack from Quebec, put up a sign next to Warren's workshop to see if he could attract as much attention from the tourists as Warren did. The sign read: "Kiss an authentic Frenchman, 50 cents." The next day Warren came down to the wharf and set up a sign of his own: "Kiss an authentic Maine lobsterman for free."

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Gender Bender

The popular blog BoingBoing ("a directory of wonderful things") has once again found its interest piqued by crustaceans (see BoingBoing, Bubba, and the Acronym Wars). Today BoingBoing ran an amusing story on an unusual Chesepeake blue crab that showed up in a waterman's trap: on one side of the crab's body it was male; on the other, female.

Despite what you might think, this was not a case of hermaphrodism. Hermaphrodites change gender. This was something far stranger: the crab was literally two genders at the same time. It's called gynandromorphy, and occurs only in bilaterally symmetric animals, including crustaceans and insects, when they undergo what one scientist has referred to as a "chromosomal mishap." The word "gynandromorph" is Greek for "woman-man-shape."


Go f*** yourself.
Gynandromorphy occurs in lobsters, too. Last summer, Bruce Fernald's wife Barb (whom you know if you've read THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS) e-mailed me a photograph of a rare half-male, half-female lobster that Bruce had caught in one of his traps. Here is Barb's photo. You can see the hardened top swimmeret (=penis!) on the right, but not on the left, which has the soft swimmeret of a female.

Gynandromorphy is a particularly tough situation for a lobster; normally the male has two of those little pensises, one on each side. Sadly, the gynandromorph gets only one, plus part of a female seminal receptacle (=vagina!) nearby. In theory, this arrangement might allow the lobster to have sex with itself. But it's not clear that lobster gynandromorphs have much sex drive at all -- when one was paired with a willing female, it treated her like a rock. Intrigued? Here is where I learned what I know about gynandromorph lobsters.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Robo Lobster in the News


Artist's rendition of
Robo Lobster (lower right)
among brethren.
The Economist magazine featured my beloved Robo Lobster on the cover of its "Technology Quarterly" insert this week. An artist's rendition of Robolobbie showed him surrounded by zoological illustrations of more traditional crustaceans. Incidentally, there are at least two versions of the Robo Lobster concept being developed in the world of esoteric robotic research. The version pictured here -- with legs -- gets a brief cameo in THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS. There is another version with wheels instead, which is featured in greater depth in my book.

As you might guess from the cover, The Economist's theme here was "biomimetics" -- technology that borrows from nature. Velcro being perhaps the most ubiquitous example. The Swiss inventor of Velcro, George de Mestral, came up with the idea for it one day after walking his dog, when he examined the burdock seeds that had attached themselves to his dog's fur using an ingenious hook-and-loop mechanism.


Robo Lobster in the, er, flesh.
(photo: Office of Naval Research
Press Office)
In THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS I tell one particular tale of robotic lobster research; more on that story as well as details from other robotic lobster projects are described in an excellent article on the University of California Science Notes website, here. "Our robotic lobster," says Dr. Joe Ayers of Northeastern University, which receives funding for Robo Lobster research from the Pentagon, "should be able to do all these things a real lobster does -- except have sex."

To anyone who has read THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS, that will seem a serious shortcoming indeed.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Waiter! There's a Loach in My Lobster Bisque!

If you look up THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS on Amazon.com, you will find a number of glowing reader reviews, along with one that criticizes the book as "pro-industry propaganda." This reviewer gave the book only two out of five stars.

For one, she didn't like the fact that I had written not just about lobsters, but also about lobster fishermen. "Imagine my surprise," Botia writes, "when I found that this book contained twice as many pages as it really need to explore the subject of LOBSTERS."


Botia, is that you?
(photo: Loaches Online)
"Botia" is this reviewer's Amazon.com pen name. (In normal parlance, a botia is a type of aquarium fish, also called a loach.) By day, Botia is a thoughtful aquarist who works at a children's science museum. She likes books about animal behavior. But for her, THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS didn't measure up.

I suppose it would be pushing it to point out that lobstermen are also animals?

It's not just that Botia preferred not to read about the fact that lobsters get caught. She felt that the book was biased. "If I wanted to hear about how industries should be left to regulate themselves," Botia said, "and that they will always do what's right because of market pressure, I'd read an Ayn Rand book."

I'll take the comparison as a compliment, but somehow I doubt THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS will ever sell as many copies as Atlas Shrugged.


Anthem for lobstermen?
Elsewhere on my website, and in a new afterword in the paperback edition of THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS, I have written about the question of bias. Journalists are often supposed to be entirely objective in their portrayals, presenting all sides of a story equally. But in writing THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS, the more I learned about the details of my subject, and the more time I spent speaking with government scientists, academic scientists, and members of industry (and reading through long scientific papers), the more I felt that I owed it to readers to tell the story as I saw it.

But Botia makes a fair point, and I don't begrudge her for it.

That said, I have a complaint of my own about Botia.

She writes that in THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS, lobstermen "are lauded as heroes for doing what is required by law anyway: Returning oversized lobsters to the ocean. They voluntarily participate in this program because otherwise the distributors would get paid to release them instead; the book seems to imply that their sole motivation is to preserve the industry."

I was surprised when I read this. In the book I draw a clear distinction between throwing back oversize lobsters, which has been legally required since 1933, and marking egg-bearing female lobsters with what's called a "V-notch," which was done entirely voluntarily by lobstermen for half a century -- there was no law requiring them to do this.

That said, when I went back and read the relevant sections of the book, I had to admit that Botia's confusion might have been my own fault. I could have explained more clearly the difference between the voluntary practices of lobstermen and those required by law.

Yes, lobster dealers were paid to release a small number of female lobsters that egged out in captivity. But fishermen themselves vastly expanded the protection of egg-bearing lobsters. They did so by V-notching not just lobsters that had egged out in captivity (which is a relatively rare occurrence in a few pounds), but any egged lobster that came up in their traps (which can happen several times a day on thousands of boats).

I should have made the magnitude of this expansion in voluntary conservation more explicit. Fishermen did, in fact, dramatically increase the protection of egged lobsters entirely of their own volition -- the scientific surveys I wrote about have since proved this to the satisfaction of everyone involved. The V-notching of egged lobsters aboard fishing boats only became an official requirement around 2002, after lobstermen themselves had already been practicing it for five decades and demanding that the government make it a law.

So in regard to at-sea V-notching, which has had a far more significant conservation impact than the maximum-size rule, the truth is actually the reverse of what Botia wrote: Fishermen did it long before it was a law and it only became a law because they demanded it.

So, Botia, the statement that forms the backbone of your criticism of THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS is incorrect. But I accept part of the blame for your mistake.

Oh, and another thing: "This book," Botia writes, "rather unexpectedly (and unnecessarily) contains 'colorful' language that some people may find offensive."

Now that is definitely a compliment.

And a strange comment, coming from Botia, who also complains that in THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS, "'evil government scientists' are portrayed as foolish eggheads that can't find their rear ends with both hands."

Whoa. I never, ever said anything about the rear ends of government scientists, nor did I ever call them "evil."

Dear Botia, LESSON ONE OF BOOK REVIEWING: you cannot use quotation marks to quote an author when the quote is something he or she never said.

Quite the opposite, in fact. I tried to make clear in the book my understanding that most government scientists were well-intentioned. It's just that their science was flawed.

But Botia, don't take my word for it.


Hot off the press.
Partly in response to complaints from the lobster industry, last fall an independent panel of highly regarded population-modeling biologists reviewed the government lobster science that I describe in THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS. This panel of experts concluded that the government's lobster science is unreliable and depends on woefully inadequate data, and recommended that the federal management criteria be abandoned. "There is no possibility," the panel wrote, "of using the models being considered, given the available data, to reasonably manage on this basis." You can click here to download the panel's full report from the website of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

As it happens, I have recently written about this very subject in an article on the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal. Click here to read "Waiter, There's a Federal Scientist in My Lobster Bisque!"

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Bruce Launches His New Boat


The Barbara Ann, just after hitting
the water. (photo: Sarah Hinckley,
Mount Desert Islander)
After months of grueling work, Bruce Fernald has launched his new lobster boat. His old boat the Double Trouble, depicted in THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS, was named after his twin sons. All grown up, the boys are graduating from college this spring. The new boat is named after Bruce's wife Barb -- the Barbara Ann. Barb broke a bottle of champagne across her bow before she slid into the sea for the first time. The launching was featured in an article in the local paper, replete with numerous photographs.

Remember, this was the state the new boat was in just two months ago. Wow.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

How I Became a Famous Novelist Overnight

When your first book is an ode to sea-dwelling bugs, you don't expect to gain the respect of the literati right away -- or, perhaps, ever. So imagine my delight when I was recently confused with the brilliant British novelist and screenplay writer Ian McEwan.


Separated at birth?
That's right. Author of the novel Saturday -- now in its fifth week on the New York Times fiction bestseller list -- as well as the acclaimed novels The Innocent, Atonement, and Eduring Love, which was made into a major motion picture. Of course, it is only a matter of time before THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS is picked up by a Hollywood studio and arrives on the silver screen. Wait, hang on, I just died laughing.

Speaking of laughter, it is the humor columnist Tom Purcell to whom I owe the honor of being confused with Ian McEwan. Mr. Purcell writes irreverent opinion pieces for The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, as well as the website Men's News Daily (motto: "Hard-hitting News with Sex Appeal"). Recently, I noticed that Mr. Purcell had penned a column back in March about Bubba. (See below for my own posts on Bubba, the hard-hitting 22-pound male lobster that captivated the world with his sex appeal.) Mr. Purcell's column was titled "Requiem for a Crustacean."

Considering the content of some of Mr. Purcell's other columns, in which he appears to share my lack of love for PeTA, I am quite confident that his column bemoaning the death of Bubba was intended as satire. Mr. Purcell goes on at some length about the immoral awfulness of eating lobsters, and then to nail his point home, takes a swipe at that well-known apologist for lobster-loving carnivores everywhere, world-famous novelist Ian McEwan -- er, me:

"I have followed the absurd argument that the way lobsters are prepared and eaten is humane. Ian McEwan argues this point in his book 'THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS: How Fishermen and Scientists Are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean.' McEwan has the audacity to argue that lobsters are left free to crawl about -- not raised in unbearable circumstances on some crowded farm. And when they die, they do not feel much, if any, pain or suffering -- a claim allegedly validated by a recent Norwegian study."

Mr. McEwan, please accept my sincerest apologies for this unfortunate mix-up. If THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS goes on to sell an extra 100,000 copies and is made into a major motion picture, after readers everywhere (or at least in Pittsburgh) come to the belief that you wrote it, I will be sure to set aside a portion of the proceeds to treat you to a scrumptious lobster dinner. Come to think of it, I had better invite Mr. Purcell, too.

Oh, and that Norwegian study? I've registered a few reservations about it; see my post, below.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

So my question to you is . . .

. . . who's the one talking here? Send me your answer, and tell me why.

(Thanks, Rick, for the card!)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Are Lobsters Funding Criminal Gangs?

Shocking news from Little Cranberry Island, the sleepy fishing village described in THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS. Two criminals, their faces hidden by ski masks and hoods, were recorded by security cameras in the middle of the night pilfering lobsters from the holding pens of the Cranberry Isles Fishermen's Co-op. Another local dealer was hit, too. A sergeant in the Maine Marine Patrol, speaking to reporter Bill Trotter of the Bangor Daily News, called it a "quick hit-and-run operation." From Trotter's April 23 article:

"A recent string of live-lobster thefts in Hancock County has investigators searching for nighttime thieves who, knowing they were being videotaped, wore ski masks and large hoods when they hit up three lobster wharves for more than $20,000 worth of shellfish. Two people have been recorded on security cameras paddling small boats in the dark of night up to Thurston's Lobster Pound in the Tremont village of Bernard and up to the Cranberry Isles Fishermen's Co-op on Little Cranberry Island, Sgt. John Williams of Maine Marine Patrol said Friday. At each dock, they wore gloves and ski masks or large hoods over their bowed heads as they loaded four or five crates of lobster onto a purloined vessel and then rowed quietly away."


Crime scene: Cranberry Isles Fishermen's
Co-op (photo: Trevor Corson)
Now, given the ski masks, it seems not impossible that Al Qaeda could have established a sleeper cell on Little Cranberry. To be sure, it would be difficult to keep such a group secret on an island little more than a mile long, occupied most of the time by at least seventy observant and mostly law-abiding citizens. Yet it is also true that when I was a boy on Little Cranberry, several friends and I found a thicket of trees located in a marshy bog on the island where we were able to successfully store a cache of Playboy magazines for up to three months without detection.

Sgt. Williams of the Marine Patrol, however, didn't seem to think that Al Qaeda was involved:

"I believe these people are connected to the fishing industry somehow," Williams said. "I believe they are local people."

"We're hoping someone knows what's going on and will give us a call," Williams said. "Sooner or later they'll be caught by somebody. We'll be a lot easier on them than the fishermen will."

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Lobster Fishing, Florida-Style


Double the fun.
An alert reader (thanks, DL) sent this photo. This, apparently, is what lobster-boat stermen are like in Florida. It seems that I picked the wrong state to go fishing.

Let's hope Maine lobstermen never hear about what goes on down south. If they do, they may evacuate the Pine Tree State en masse.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Lobster Phallocentrism

I have smart friends, which enriches my life enormously. For example, the other day a smart friend of mine -- a brilliant professor, actually, with a scholarly bent toward all manner of subjects, including gender studies -- happened across my recent blog entry on "lobster feminism." After reading my quote from the Boston Globe Magazine, in which I claimed to be a lobster feminist (see Lobster Feminism, below), he dashed off this quick e-mail:

"Lobster feminism? Among homo sapiens it would be called, er, phallocentrism."

I was pretty sure I knew what he meant, but I had to check the dictionary just to be sure. I was disappointed; the definition was less graphic than I'd guessed. "Phallocentric" means, simply, "centered on or emphasizing the masculine point of view."

Hoping to up the ante, I fired off a response:

"Actually, it would be double phallocentrism, since lobsters have two penises."


The male lobster's
anatomy, including its
dual genitalia. This
drawing is included,
along with several
others, in the paperback
edition of THE SECRET
LIFE OF LOBSTERS.
(drawings by Jim Sollers)
Then I decided I ought to explain why I still thought I could be considered a lobster feminist. I continued:

"The key here is to recognize, as explained in such wonderful detail in my book, that females control the power in the mating relationship -- they choose their males, which have no say in whether or not they receive courtship overtures. I just want female lobsters to have the best phalluses available for the purposes of actualizing their power."

A few minutes later came the good professor's reply:

"I understand."

Later he admitted that "I understand" was a phrase he never seemed to be able to use without irony.

Isn't that how it always is with academics -- irony, irony, irony? They can never take anything at face value.

Okay, fine, so maybe I am a closet lobster phallocentrist. I miss Bubba.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Lobster Feminism

On the spur of the moment a few weeks ago I decided I was a lobster feminist. There are a couple of key points you should be aware of regarding this decision. First point: I made this decision out loud, sans premeditation, on the phone with the editor of the Boston Globe Magazine. Second point: said editor then published my announcement in said magazine, which has a circulation of approximately 700,000. These are all perfectly normal people, mind you, who have a right not to be assaulted early on a Sunday morning by announcements of such things as -- Exhibit A -- lobster feminism.


I didn't know the Boston Globe was going
to put my quote in big orange type.
My quote in the magazine was printed in big orange font under a large photo of the hulking Bubba, RIP (see Bad News for Bubba, below). The Globe canvassed a number of Boston-area seafood experts on the fate of the oversized lobster, including the celebrated chef Jasper White, who hosted my book party for THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS last summer. Jasper agreed with me that Bubba should have been thrown back into the sea.

Here's what I told the Boston Globe, in case you missed it over your Sunday morning coffee on April 3rd:

"I would throw [Bubba] back, but not for the reasons that PeTA wanted. My interest is for all those pining females out there who never got to mate with Bubba. I'm a lobster feminist. Robbing them of Bubba was a crime."

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Lobsters Invade the Nation's Capital

This week I was in Washington D.C. at my alma mater the Sidwell Friends School. Sidwell had invited me to be the school's guest speaker for National Library Week. (Haven't heard of it? Neither had I.)

I visited classes and addressed the high-school student body in the auditorium. I tried to give the students a sense of what's involved in writing a book, and what it takes to get to that point in life, and what one can expect from a career as a writer. Basically, I told them that if they ever found themselves writing personal essay or memoir before the age of fifty, they should tear it up, burn the shreds, and go get a job as a newspaper reporter on the police beat.


Peek-a-boo.
(photo: Trevor Corson)
Throughout my talk, I sprinkled my comments with as many lobster-sex jokes as possible. That seemed to keep them awake. I had given a similar lecture to high-school students at my other alma mater in the Washington area, the Potomac School, a few weeks earlier, and the tactic seemed to work.

To help promote the event at Sidwell, the school's librarian -- bless her heart -- had created an entire army of tiny, fuzzy, stuffed-animal lobsters, each reading a tiny copy of my book, grasped between its claws. The little lobsters were sprinkled around the school beforehand, including one in each faculty member's mailbox (wish I had a picture of that).

Dang, I don't usually go in for cute, but them things is freakin' cute. Got one sitting on my desk right now.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Bruce's New Boat Taking Shape


Building a boat is no picnic, but the
Perrier helps. The mold in which the
hull of Bruce's boat was formed sits
in the background.
(photo: Trevor Corson)
Off a nondescript wooded road is the unmarked boat hanger where Bruce Fernald is helping to construct his new lobster boat. I swung by the other day, parked my car in the mud by piles of melting snow, and wandered into the cavernous space, where I found Bruce clad in a white body suit and respirator mask to protect himself from filaments of fiberglass while he ground away at sections of the hull to prepare them for fusing to other sections.

The cabin unit had already been lowered onto the hull, although no windows had yet been cut out of the solid walls that held up the cabin roof. Underneath the fiberglass floor, a massive diesel engine had already been installed. Bruce is putting in seventy-hour weeks, trying to get the boat finished in time for spring lobstering. The construction process has been tough on both him and Barb, since he has to stay nights on the mainland and is almost never home.

Bruce sold his old boat the Double Trouble -- the boat on which I worked and which I wrote about in THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS -- back in January, after twenty years of lobstering with her.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Next Big Thing

NPR's nationally-syndicated radio show The Next Big Thing, produced by WNYC in New York, sometimes takes its title literally. That was the case this past weekend, when the show opened with a tribute to Bubba the Lobster, RIP. (Click here and look for the segment called "The Life Aquatic.") Host Dean Olsher interviewed Alan Marshall, aquarium curator at the Pittsburgh Zoo, Bubba's first (and, sadly, last) stop on the crustacean underground railroad that was spiriting him, if not to freedom, at least to safety, before the old fellow accidentally expired. Olsher also interviewed me on the show, and asked me to describe the largest lobster I'd ever seen. That brought back memories of a particularly frightening day of dives by the Johnson Sea-Link manned submersible in the chilly waters of the North Atlantic, which I observed from a perch aboard the sub's 170-foot mother ship, the R/V Seward Johnson II. You can listen to The Next Big Thing segment on Bubba online, if you have RealPlayer, by clicking here.

Friday, March 11, 2005

BoingBoing, Bubba, and the Acronym Wars


The U.S. Navy's NR-1 nuclear research
submarine was attacked by a lobster.
(This artist's rendition of the sub,
along with photographs of it,
are available from the FAS
Military Analysis Network
.)
I was surprised to see that my reporting on large lobsters and my musings on Bubba, the late 22-pound leviathan, caught the attention of the blog BoingBoing ("A Directory of Wonderful Things"), which ran several postings on Bubba. An astute BoingBoing contributor noted that Bubba wasn't all that large compared with one of the monstrous lobsters described in my book. (Hint: she was referring in particular to a scene in the Prologue, when a lobster threatens to attack a US Navy nuclear submarine full of marine biologists.

Ever since the Bubba story surfaced, I've been intrigued by something the Associated Press reported: that a group calling itself "People for Eating Tasty Animals" had apparently offered a hefty sum for Bubba (he was worth several hundred dollars at local market prices), presumably for the right to boil him up for dinner. The group's acronym, PETA, is, of course, the same as that of the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. That's sort of like Al Qaeda deciding to go by the acronym "USA."

Curious, I decided to look for People for Eating Tasty Animals on the web. Before I relate the results of that search, though, for the sake of convenience let's distinguish between the two acronyms. Thanks to some emotionally clever logo designer, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals styles its acronym with a lower-case "e" -- PeTA. Somehow the acronym seems softer, cuter, and kinder that way, doesn't it? People for Eating Tasty Animals goes with the straight-up all-caps form -- PETA. Grrr.

Now mind you, people aligned with PeTA have accused PETA of being a front for the meat industry. (I haven't tried to confirm this independently, but according to PETA the accusation was reported in that well-known magazine of international gastronomic controversy, Vegetarian Times.) So I expected to find a glossy, flush website that would inspire in me the same tantalizing tingles I feel when I stalk a really huge, industrial supermarket meat counter: prehistoric pleasure combined with a postmodern inclination to vomit.

Instead, what I found was this. It's run by a gentleman named Michael Doughney, and appears not to have been updated since sometime around 1996. Part of the problem is that PeTA sued Mr. Doughney under trademark infringement rules, as well as under something called the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (wow), to prevent him from using the domain name he'd registered, peta.org, to host his PETA site; the contretemps was significant enough to have been reported in Wired magazine.

Mr. Doughney, who clearly feels that PeTA has wronged him, appears simply to want to provide "a resource for those who enjoy eating meat, wearing fur and leather, hunting, and the fruits of scientific research (and more!)."

It seems to me that Mr. Doughney must be catering to a class of superhuman (and fabulously well-dressed) Renaissance men. But if you're the rare sort for whom this type of resource induces nausea, I suggest you visit another website run by Mr. Doughney: BARF.org.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Brood of Bubba (or, How to be a Pimp Daddy Lobster)

The internet has been abuzz with mourning for Bubba, the 22-pound lobster who died this week despite efforts to save him (see my previous entries on Bubba here). One mourner wrote to me:

"I feel sad for Bubba. He should've been left alone to fight and mate. :(
Sorrow and sighing shall flee away. --Isaiah 35:10"

Generally, I would not honor the death of a lobster with a Biblical incantation. (If I did, I would have to spend the rest of my life chanting penance; a rough calculation suggests that during the two years I worked on a fishing boat I was indirectly responsible for the deaths of 60,000-80,000 lobsters.) But in this case, I do feel that it is appropriate to honor Bubba by invoking a restorative quote from scripture.

Another way to honor Bubba would be to consider his probable accomplishments. A question was passed on to me as follows:

"How many offspring is Bubba likely to have produced in 30 to 50 years?"


Did she date Bubba? A female lobster
and her eggs. (photo: Carl Wilson)
We can hazard a very rough guess. A Brood-of-Bubba thought experiment might run as follows: a female lobster only half Bubba's size, at around 10 pounds, after just one coupling with Bubba could easily produce 200,000 eggs (in perhaps two batches). Let's say Bubba impregnated two females a year -- certainly a conservative guess for a guy like him, as readers of THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS will know from following the exploits of M, the alpha male (a serious swinger) in my book. Scientists estimate that only about one in a thousand lobster larvae survive to harvestable size, but that's still 400 kids a year, or nearly 4,000 offspring over the course of a decade.

Only Bubba knew how he actually spent his time down there. Actually, I take that back -- lacking a brain per se, he probably wouldn't have remembered. But any rate, it does seem reasonable to temper our sadness at his passing with the thought that he is likely to have left an impressive legacy.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Bad News for Bubba

The heroic effort to save Bubba the lobster, which I reported yesterday, has gone horribly awry. Bubba, the 22-pound leviathan, reportedly died on the way to the aquarium.

What's the lesson here? If you've read THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS, you'll know that a big lobster's best friend is not an animal-rights activist from PeTA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), but rather a lobster fisherman from Maine. That's right: for decades Maine lobstermen have been releasing all lobsters larger than a few pounds back into the sea, as a conservation measure. Reportedly, Bubba was caught in the waters off Martha's Vineyard, where fishermen don't follow this rule.

PeTA likes to champion the high-profile cases of big lobsters like Bubba, which attract media attention, even if these efforts frequently end with the death of the animal. But PeTA would save many more large lobsters from the pot if they joined forces with the Maine lobster industry to convince fishermen elsewhere to follow the rule protecting big lobsters. Unfortunately, because PeTA is opposed to the human use and eating of animals under any circumstances, they reject outright the possibility that lobstermen themselves might care about saving lobsters like Bubba, too. That's a shame.

P.S. This from an AP story on Bubba's death, dateline March 3, 2005:

"Other large lobsters didn't fare well after they were caught, too. In 1985, a 25-pound lobster that the New England Aquarium planned to give to a Tokyo museum died when the water temperature rose and the salt dropped in its aquarium. In 1990, a 17 1/2-pound lobster named Mimi died just days after being flown to a restaurant in Detroit. Last year, a 14-pound lobster named Hercules that was rescued by a Washington state middle school class died before it could be released off the coast of Maine."

And then there's the story about Mary Tyler Moore, Rush Lambaugh, and their fight over the giant lobster "Spike," a tragic-comic tale I relate in THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS . . .

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Believe It or Not

CNN reports that another large lobster -- this one has been named "Bubba" -- has been saved from being boiled alive!


Bubba on the left, dinner-sized lobster on the right.
(photo: Keith Srakocic/AP)
If you want to know what I really think about this issue, stop by the bookstore and take a quick read through the Appendix of my book, THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS. Hint: I think large lobsters should be released back into the ocean, too, but not for the humanitarian reasons PeTA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) proclaims. My sympathies are with the horny female lobsters pining on the ocean floor to have Bubba's babies -- babies that would have grown up to be more delectable dinner-plate delicacies than tough old Bubba could ever be. I doubt poor old Bubba will be getting much, er, tail in his new tank at the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Lobster Poetry


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Lobster Helps Save Trans-Atlantic Ties, Brings Return of French Fries


The lobster was delicious.
(photo: Associated Press)
President Bush is in Europe mending fences, and on Monday evening the President even dined with his nemesis Jacques Chirac of France. The dinner was described in yesterday's New York Times:

"The friendliest gesture during the dinner given by President Bush here was not political or personal, but culinary. After the lobster risotto with truffle sauce and alongside the filet of beef with bordelaise sauce was a side dish of potatoes."

Sounds exquisite. But surely the chef was insulted by the President's subsequent comment:

"Mr. Bush announced that they were 'French fries,' one participant said. No longer would thin slices of potatoes cooked in oil be 'freedom fries.'"

I don't know about you, but if I had just slaved in the kitchen to produce a lobster risotto with truffle sauce, and then someone in the dining room referred to my potato side dish as "French fries," I would direct them to depart from my dining room and find the nearest McDonald's.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

No Brain, No Pain?

Whenever I give a lecture on lobsters, someone in the audience usually asks me if I still eat lobsters after everything I've learned about them. The answer is a complicated yes; I take the opportunity to talk about the ethics of killing lobsters for food -- one of my favorite subjects.


Check out Jeff Pert's lobster-
cartoon postcards
. I think they're
hilarious.
Key to the question of lobster killing is the debate over whether or not lobsters feel pain when boiled alive; I address this in detail at the end of my book, THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS. I even picked a fight last fall with the novelist David Foster Wallace, after he penned a strange article in Gourmet magazine decrying the death of lobsters; you can read my complaints about Wallace in an interview I gave to the online magazine Salon, here.

Wallace aside, the people I most take issue with in this debate are the folks at PeTA -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Personally, I agree with PeTA that lobsters might feel pain (which is why I kill lobsters quickly, before I boil them). But beyond that I disagree with PeTA -- to me, their obsession with saving lobsters from the pot is a costly misallocation of moral concern, especially when there is so much that is good about eating lobster, including the fact that for the most part, lobster is one of the world's few sustainably harvested seafoods. And if there's one thing I've learned about lobsters, it's that they are not sentient creatures in the sense that cows and pigs are (FYI, I don't eat much pork, beef, or chicken, and when I do, I try to stick to the free-range varieties).

However, in the past few days I've found myself in partial agreement with PeTA over a recent piece of news. Several alert readers sent me this AP news release, which reports on a Norwegian study that has concluded that lobsters probably don't feel pain when boiled alive.


Norwegian lobster
In the article, PeTA's suspicion that the government-funded research study was biased in favor of industry seems to me plausible. Norway's fishing industry is large and influential, and the small Norwegian lobster, Nephrops norvegicus (the tails of which are often sold breaded as "scampi"), is the third most valuable commercial species in the North Sea.

That said, the PeTA spokesperson goes on to suggest that the lobster study is equivalent to the tobacco industry claiming that smoking isn't bad for you. Now there's a thought. Perhaps this could be a marketing slogan for the lobster industry: "So good it's addictive. And watch out: those claws could kill you."

But my favorite section of the article was the "meet and greet" reference:

"Many consumers will always hesitate at placing lobsters in boiling pots of water. New Englanders may feel comfortable cooking their lobsters, but people outside the region often feel uneasy about boiling a live creature, said Kristen Millar, executive director of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council. 'Consumers don't generally greet and meet an animal before they eat it,' she said."

Hello, lobster.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Happy Valentine's Day


(drawing: Sarah Corson)
My mother made this lobsterman's Valentine's Day card back when I was a kid.

Hope you haul up a heart.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Corson: Cartoon Worthy

It's a sign of success -- I guess -- when you start getting made fun of in newspaper cartoons. Look ma, I'm a joke.


From the January 16, 2005 edition of the Boston Sunday Globe.
Cartoon by Ed Colley.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Good-bye, Double Trouble


Ever seen a lobster boat driving down
the street? The Double Trouble departs
on its way to its new owner.
(photo: Sarah Corson)
Yesterday Bruce Fernald bade farewell to the Double Trouble, the lobster boat named after his twin boys, the boat that was featured in THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS. She served Bruce well for just over twenty years.

When speaking recently with the boat's new owner in Massachusetts, Bruce learned that the new owner had received THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS as a Christmas present from three separate acquaintances. It's not often that a person purchases a used fishing boat and finds that the boat's entire history is available as a book at Barnes & Noble.

A few days earlier, on December 31st, Bruce's current sternman and his fiance had eloped and gotten married -- aboard the Double Trouble, with Bruce and Barb's blessing. Serving as a matrimonial sanctuary at sea was the boat's final act under Bruce's stewardship. Barb wrote about the wedding and the boat's departure in her column for the newspaper the Working Waterfront.

Construction will soon begin on Bruce's new boat, which he hopes to have finished in time for spring fishing.

It's just hit me that I spent two years of my life aboard the Double Trouble -- two years where nothing stood between me and an icy death at sea but her fiberglass hull. Thanks, boat.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Hillbilly Christmas


I am wearing a heavy work glove.
(photo: courtesy of Islesford.com.)
I snuck out to Little Cranberry Island to attend the Christmas performance by the school kids, and in the process got press-ganged into playing washtub bass for a musical number that was included in the evening's lineup.

Now, if my writing career ever flounders, I have a backup skill.

That fellow to the right of me in the picture, hefting the accordion, is my stepfather.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Book Tour: 6,473 miles

The official tally is in. The total number of miles I drove this year to promote THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS was 6,473.


The lobstermobile.
(photo: Ash Corson)
But since I drive a Honda Insight -- a gas-electric hybrid that gets nearly 60 mpg -- I did the whole tour on just over a hundred gallons of gas. If I had been driving a Ford Explorer, I would have needed triple that much gas (and money).

Where did I learn to be so frugal and eco-friendly? Well, partly from my father. I bought the Honda the year he died -- you can read that story in an oft-cited article I wrote for the New York Times.

But I also learned frugality from Warren Fernald on Little Cranberry Island -- if you've read THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS, you know Warren. Biggest tightwad I ever met. But that's how he could afford to catch lobsters sustainably for half a century. He didn't need to wipe out the lobster population. For him, the good life was only taking what you needed and saving the rest for your kids and their kids.

Friday, November 05, 2004

More Tales from the Book Tour . . .

When I wrote THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS I deliberately kept myself out of the book and tried to let my characters speak for themselves. But when the book was published and I hit the road to promote it, I discovered, as many first-time authors do, that I was the book's public face.

At first this prospect seemed exciting. My first taste of fame came at a signing in a small town in coastal Maine. The event began quietly. I signed a few books, chatted with a few tourists who'd heard me on the radio. One apologized that she wouldn't be reading my book until she returned to Ohio. She didn't want to know more than she had to about the lobsters she was planning to devour during her vacation.

A few minutes later there was a commotion at the door and two busloads of camp kids streamed into the store, an army of teenyboppers in uniform -- green shorts, grey T-shirts, and gigantic sneakers. Their beleaguered counselors had unleashed them for a furious few minutes of souvenir shopping. For the store it was a minor retail opportunity combined with a major crowd control problem.

The campers swarmed over the lobster key chains, lobster fridge magnets, lobster bumper stickers, and lobster mugs, yet seemed unsatisfied. Then one of them saw me, sitting in the corner at my table, stacked with things with big red lobster claws on them. He tugged his comrade's arm and marched over, trailing a platoon of curious boys and girls. After preliminary greetings the interrogation began.

"Are you the author?"

"Yes," I responded.

A round of frowns, then recognition.

"So, you wrote this book?"

"That's right," I confirmed.

"Cool!"

"I've never met anyone who wrote a book before."

"Was it hard?"

"Yes," I nodded, emphatically.

The kids buzzed, attracting more campers like bees to the hive. Soon I was surrounded by admirers, three and four rows deep. I was glowing. A girl in the front row fumbled in her pockets, her gaze locked on the book.

"Um, how much does it cost?"

It had already occurred to me that THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS would make an excellent gift for her parents back home, a memoir of Maine that outclassed any key chain.

"Well, it's about twenty-five dollars," I said.

She looked hopeful, and squinted into her hand. Some of the other kids began digging in their pockets. The girl announced the results of her investigation.

"I have six quarters."

A chorus of similar calculations erupted from the crowd, all measured in coins. I think we were all a little crestfallen.

One of the campers noticed the stack of promotional postcards on the table. I'd had several thousand of them printed up, at a cost of a few hundred dollars to myself. An image of the book cover was on the front and lobster factoids on the back.

"Are these free?"

I had to acknowledge that they were. The campers dealt themselves cards as though at a casino, and when the pile was gone they turned to go, the author forgotten. As an afterthought, the girl with the quarters thrust her postcard at me.

"Hey, can you autograph this?"

As one, the crowd of children rotated in place and stared. Flickers of delight crossed their faces, and a couple of eleven-year-old girls started bouncing up and down on their big sneakers.

"Yeah, me too!"

Jason Giambi, eat your heart out.

"Autograph mine!"

"Oh, no, me, me, me! Me first!"

The crowd pressed in, the campers in back reaching over the shoulders of the ones in front, all shoving their postcards at me for signature.

Autographed cards clutched in hand, the kids trickled back aboard their busses in clumps, most of them without having made a purchase. I had run out of postcards, had sold no books, and had robbed the shop of dozens of trinkets worth of income. But what did it matter? I felt like a rock star. I was savoring my newfound celebrity when two very attractive high-school girls walked past my table.

"Are you the author?" one of them drawled, drop-jawed with awe.

I puffed out my chest and smiled.

"That's right!"

For a heartbeat longer the girls kept up the charade. Then they collapsed into a heap of giggles and dashed for the door. Still pumped with pride, I required a few seconds for it to click: they'd witnessed my encounter with the camp kids. These two high-school girls were making fun of me.

A word of advice to aspiring writers: getting your name on the cover of a book with a big red claw on it is not the quickest path to universal respect. This shouldn't have surprised me. During the previous two years I'd learned to cringe when asked what I did for a living. Especially in conversation with members the hip thirty-something set to which I supposedly belonged, the answer -- that I was writing book about lobsters -- earned me the sort of polite smile reserved for lunatics.

But once the book was published and I began traveling throughout New England on tour, I was astonished at the number of people who showed up to hear me talk about lobsters. (Maybe they wanted to see a lunatic in person?) At first only a handful of people appeared for my book talks, but then fifty or sixty, and later seventy or eighty people would attend. There were a few lonely days when only a spattering of heroic stragglers stopped by, but on the worst occasion I still succeeding in talking four hot college kids into buying the book on strength of the sex scenes it contained. When I was back home between trips, the bulky trainer at my gym even became interested when he learned that male lobsters had more than one penis.

He wasn't alone. When a camera crew from CBS News touched down on Little Cranberry Island and Bruce Fernald took us lobstering aboard the Double Trouble, the female correspondent compared my book to a Harlequin romance, then steered the conversation toward the male lobster's double endowment.

"Yup," Bruce declared, "it's enough to make a man jealous." He hefted a large male up to the camera. "They've got two, and they're always hard."

The Associated Press interviewed me and then sent a report over the newswires asking, "Who would have thought lobsters were such passionate lovers?" USA Today noted that females lobsters lacked a vagina. US News & World Report reported that they got PMS. The Bob and Sheri Show called me to talk about lobster dating. In an NPR studio in Washington D.C., the august radio host Diane Rehm nearly fell out of her chair -- with delight, I believe -- when I described how female lobsters seduced males into submission by urinating in their faces. (Treat yourself to some fun; you can listen to the interview online, here.)

I suppose if there is an explanation for why THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS spent twelve weeks on the New England bestseller list and became a worldwide science bestseller, it's not really that I achieved much notoriety on my book tour (camp kids excluded). It's that Mother Nature, when coaxed from her shell, revealed facts stranger than fiction.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Splash Redux


Care for some tail meat?
(photo: Trevor Corson)
I am losing the battle against lobster kitsch. What was I thinking? Trying to write a book about lobsters and at the same time avoid having my kitchen fill up with lobster kitsch was probably an impossibility.

But I can't complain, for it turns out that I have been blessed with more than just lobster-patterned potholders. In fact, I have bested Tom Hanks in "Splash" and reeled in something even more perfect than Daryl Hannah as a mermaid. Pictured with me here is no ordinary, tropical, fish-tailed mermaid. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a cold-water Canadian lobstermaid (you can tell by her feet). Learning of my dedication to her species, she has deigned to spend a little time on land with me. However, she was disappointed to discover that I only have one penis. (You'll need to read THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS to know what she was accustomed to down there.)

Now if I could just get her to shed her shell . . .

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Interview with Salon


Salon published a long, front-page interview with me today called "Kinky Sex Secrets of the Lobster." The tag line reads:

"They're stupid, hyper-aggressive, and they turn each other on by urinating out of bladders in their heads. And David Foster Wallace got everything about them wrong."

Salon's graphics people created a gorgeous movie poster to accompany the interview -- if only Hollywood would take the cue! Note the rating: NC-17. Yes folks, that's "No One 17 and Under Admitted."

Sunday, August 29, 2004

It's time to read from your letters

I've been getting a lot of nice reader mail -- thanks to everyone who's written with kind words about the book. But so far only one reader has actually sent me a present. Bill, down in Tucson, wrote to say that he's a life-long lobster lover, and I think when he says "lover" he means he loves to eat them, because in the package with Bill's letter was just about the most intimate gift related to lobster-eating that an author can receive from a fan. The thing you need to know about Bill is that he's in the marketing business, and one of his clients is somebody called "Dental Concepts." And the dental-concept present Bill most generously sent was essentially a lifetime supply of these tiny little plastic thingies that would be really useful for picking between your teeth after chowing on lobster meat. I say "would be" because I haven't actually had a chance to try them after a lobster meal yet, despite the fact that on my summer book tour in New England I ate lobster approximately, well, too many times. As touched as I was to receive Bill's present I forgot to take it with me on the road, but I'm briefly back home in Boston and finally had a chance to check out Bill's plastic thingies a little more closely, and now I can at least attest to their excellent use in stimulating the gums while drinking a gin and tonic in front of the computer while trying to think of something to write. It's true that lobster meat is somewhat stringy and has the effect of jamming itself between the teeth (god forbid you eat corn on the cob at the same time), and Bill's picks seem like they'd be up to the job by appearance alone: each tiny device looks like a white plastic high-tech surgical implant that may even be capable of receiving radio signals to help dislodge lobster flesh. I'm slightly afraid. But as someone susceptible to periodontitis, I know my dentist will be pleased that I've finally brought a formidable weapon to bear against the ravaging effects of lobster meat.

Though no present was involved, there was also a charming and slightly disturbing letter from Elizabeth, who revealed (on a dare from several friends) that she and I have led parallel lives. I admit, I was surprised. How many individuals in this world have a toe in the New England lobster business, in Chinese language and politics, in Buddhist temples, in the study of organ transplantation, and in science journalism? I had thought the answer was one. Apparently, it's two. Elizabeth: are you real? Someday we'll have to meet.

So, if any of you wonderful readers were thinking of sending me presents, I already have enough toothpicks and an alter ego.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

The Revolution Has Begun


The lobster conspiracy
It was a day like any other summer day on the coast of Maine -- the sun pierced through puffy clouds, a southwest breeze rustled the evergreens. The name of the town, Friendship, felt like a warm handshake. And yet I smelled trouble from the moment I turned onto Main Street.

I was scheduled to give a talk in Friendship in a few weeks, and I was nervous. Despite the name, Friendship is home to some of the toughest, most cantankerous lobstermen around. Here I was, a city boy, come to tell the locals a thing or two about lobsters. Sure, I'd put in two years as a sternman on a lobster boat up the coast, but the fishermen there were pansies compared to these guys. Copies of my book, its artistically etched claw and girly cursive script on the cover, were scheduled to be distributed around town. I feared that like the occasional speed-limit sign or offensively ornate mailbox, my book and its bright red claw would become a target when the local lobstermen next recalibrated the sights on their rifles from speeding pickup trucks. When I approached Friendship's general store, I saw a notice with my name on it, taped to the door like a wanted poster.

I retreated, snuck around the corner, and ducked into the offices of my host, The Lobster Conservancy. The Lobster Conservancy is a research organization founded by Diane Cowan, one of the scientists I write about in my book, and it was my only hope for protection. Diane and her staff have spent years reaching out to the local lobstermen, a revolutionary approach that has earned Diane the respect of fishermen and allowed her to do what few lobster scientists have managed to do in the past -- enlist lobstermen's help on collaborative research. As evidenced by the organization's name, The Lobster Conservancy does great things in the cause of conserving the lobster resource for the future.


The welcome sign (top)
disarmed the UPS
delivery man, who was
surely frightened by
the shipping label
(bottom). (photos:
Trevor Corson)
But it turned out that even my welcome at The Lobster Conservancy was marred by a disturbing development, and things quickly went downhill. Boxes containing copies of my book had indeed arrived in Friendship, and were stacked in a corner of The Lobster Conservancy offices.

But a member of the staff pointed accusingly at the address labels on the boxes. Wondering what could possibly have gone wrong, I examined the labels, then drew back in horror. My publisher had addressed every box containing copies of my book not to The Lobster Conservancy, but -- no joke -- to The Lobster Conspiracy.

As it happened, I needn't have worried. When I gave my talk in Friendship a few weeks later, a crowd of seventy friendly Friendship residents showed up. Diane Cowan introduced me to the crowd with such warmth and good humor that I felt reckless enough to declare the event the first official meeting of The Lobster Conspiracy. The lobster revolution has begun.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Murder at the Summer Shack

The lobsters never knew what hit them. They'd been languishing in their tank, perhaps exchanging the occasional urine-laced greeting (see It's All About the Sex), when they were yanked from their cold water paradise and plopped in the pot. Suddenly it was all hot water and darkness, and for once, no one heard them scream. (Too much kitchen noise.) Minutes later, their tender flesh had been diced, mixed with mayonnaise and scallions, and dabbed onto split buns. Alongside the lobster rolls were arrayed other horrors, like lobster corn fritters -- the chef's latest invention. Perhaps the lobsters' hard feelings would have softened had they known that a hated competitor had suffered similar humiliation. The menu also included crab mixed with cucumber on crackers. (For readers who guessed that the lobster's hated competitor was the cucumber -- or the cracker -- let me recommend my excellent book, THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS.)

It's my fault. The occasion for this murderous brutality was my recent book party, sponsored by Harvard Book Store. If the New England seafood universe has a center, the party occurred close to it, amidst the lobster-blood-splattered revelry of Jasper White's Summer Shack in Cambridge, Mass. In the Summer Shack's main hall, boisterous diners crowded around picnic tables. The cracking sounds of lobster shells punctuated their chatter, and crustacean juices dribbled down their bibs, staining their pants and dresses. But in a cordoned-off section near the back, the revelry was augmented by a deeper appreciation for lobster life -- and lobster death.

About forty of us were corralled back there, and our evening began with a pair of live lobsters on a video screen, dancing in a combative embrace, accompanied by the civilizing strains of a Viennese waltz. This intimacy was the perfect accompaniment to our consumption of the aforementioned rolls and fritters, composed, communion-like, of our hero.

Which makes me wonder if there isn't a lobster-crucifixion scene somewhere in the movies, because I have come across other lobster scenes that are nearly as strange. It was with a few of these movie clips that I kicked off the evening's formal festivities. And what struck my guests and I was how primal are the urges that this animal evokes.


Daryl Hannah in "Splash"
A few days earlier at my local video store, I had posed what I believed to be an impossible question to the staff. Placing a teetering stack of videos on the counter, I had challenged them to guess what the films had in common. My pile contained "Flashdance," "Crocodile Dundee 2," "Annie Hall," "Splash," "Little Mermaid," "Finding Nemo," "Summer Rental," "Leonard Part 6" (a sci-fi flick starring Bill Cosby -- so bad that the proprietor tried to shout me out of the store for renting it) and "Multiple Maniacs" (a pornographic freak show by John Waters). The nautical theme is obvious in several of these, but the staff struggled to tie in the outliers, and no one guessed lobster. Then, to my surprise -- and great annoyance -- a voice piped up from the back. "Lobsters!" I was especially annoyed because he was cheating; earlier, he'd fielded my request for a movie called "Lobsterman from Mars." (They didn't have it.)

"Lobsterman from Mars," which I'm sorry to say I have yet to view in its entirety, contains a scene in which a beautiful young woman, mud-stained and tousled after some sort of tussle, shouts, "Okay, you win! Come and get me, lobster!" I'm tempted to envision the circumstances under which, say, Linda Greenlaw might mouth those words, but I shouldn't -- she very kindly blurbed my book. Indeed, if you've ever witnessed the lobster scene John Waters' "Multiple Maniacs," you'll know that "come and get me, lobster" are words to be avoided at all costs -- unless, of course, you actually want to have sexual intercourse with a six-foot lobster. Near the end of her ordeal, the human victim, her face the very vision of ecstasy, screams, "Oh, lobster!"

So you can see what primal urges were aroused among us at the Summer Shack. Having just consumed gobs of lobster, my guests and I had a hard time staying in our seats during the sexually suggestive meat-sucking scene (that's lobster meat) from "Flashdance." Then we nearly touched off a brawl, inspired by the quarreling over lobster dinners that occurs in "Crocodile Dundee 2" and "Summer Rental." And we wept, at least inwardly, over the fate of the ill-fated lobsters handled with such insecurity by Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in "Annie Hall." (As a former commercial fisherman, I was confirmed in my suspicion that what Woody Allen needed wasn't therapy, but a job.) After all this primal trauma, the lobster-eating scene from "Splash" was the perfect antidote.

And, ultimately, eating lobster and enjoying it -- though perhaps not with the carnivorous gusto of Daryl Hannah -- was the purpose of the evening. For me, and I hope for my guests, the enjoyment of the food was augmented by the fascinating details we learned about the lives of lobsters. It's good, I think, for us to know more about our food. Death entwined with life. For me, it really is a kind of communion.


Jasper White
Not all would agree. After my guests had gotten their books signed and had departed, our chef, Jasper White, a man of imperial stature, girth, and reputation, lowered himself into a chair with a sigh. In tune with the evening's primal undertow, Jasper recounted the rage he'd once unleashed. He'd been on TV, filming a cooking show with Julia Child, when it came time to dispatch the lobster. He'd done so by plunging a sword-sized kitchen knife into the lobster's head and splitting the animal down the middle, the act broadcast to perhaps millions of viewers, accompanied by a fearful crunching sound. The anti-cruelty community mobilized immediately. They mounted protests against the gruesome lobster murder.

They were unaware, perhaps, that a lobster has no identifiable pain receptors, and a nervous system similar in complexity to that of a housefly or mosquito. That's not to say that lobsters might still feel something akin to pain; we just don't know. All the more reason, though, to plunge a sword-sized kitchen knife into the lobster's head; that is by far the quickest and most humane way to dispatch the animal. Certainly, the death is gruesome. But may I go so far as to suggest that like the primal nature of communion, witnessing the death of what you eat can be spiritual? Those lobsters gave their lives for us. I'm not necessarily suggesting that, instead of boiling them, we should crucify them. But if there were a lobster crucifixion scene in the movies, I would watch it.

Friday, June 18, 2004

It's All About the Sex

Hey lobster fans! Moving apartments took me out of the running for a couple of weeks, but I'm back to the blog.

I don't imagine that many of you were waiting with, um, baited breath for the answer to my last entry's dramatic cliffhanger. Besides, there's a new question now: Did I move apartments just to escape the lobster kitsch that had begun its inevitable creep at my old place? Is my new apartment lobster-kitsch-free?

Before we crack open my shell and dig into the details of the lobsterness of my home life, I'd like to share a few morsels of lobster news. No, I haven't decided to go on tour wearing a bright-red lobster Elvis suit with cape and giant claws. But I can report something almost as good. THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS is now in bookstores everywhere and, I, Trevor Corson, have become a sex symbol.

That's right, people can't stop talking about me and sex. Well, me and lobster sex. It's true that the Christian Science Monitor called my book "a love story," but that's the Christian Scientists for you. Less circumspect, Newsday says the book should have been titled "The Sex Life of Lobsters" and received an X rating. "Who knew," the Newsday reviewer asks, "that lobsters are such astonishingly randy critters?" Articles in the New York Times and elsewhere have also lingered over the mating habits that I describe in such mouth-watering detail in the book.

The other day on the radio, even Captain Lou couldn't stop saying my book was X-rated. Capt. Lou, a South Shore native, invited me down from Boston to be on his show, "Navigator Talk Radio." Capt. Lou's charming mother, in her eighties and nearly deaf, flirted with me in the studio and passed me questions about lobster sex on a napkin while Capt. Lou expounded excitedly on the X-rated nature of the book.


Know any nice girls?
(cartoon: Jeff Pert)
After the interview, Capt. Lou's mother asked if I knew any nice girls. She went on to explain that her grandson was available. (I met him -- he's handsome and charming.) I hesitated to recommend that he try the lobster approach to dating. That would require that he beat up the other guys in the neighborhood, piss in their faces, and then stand on his doorstep pissing at passing females. It was perhaps not the best way to attract a girl. At least, not a nice one.

As for me, I'm still waiting to open the New York Times in the morning and read the article that will complete my transformation into a full-fledged sex symbol. "Who knew," it will say, "that Trevor Corson was such an astonishingly randy critter?"

So, now that we're getting personal, what about my new apartment? I'll tell you right now that it's not well-designed for the purpose of pissing at passing females. And perhaps that's just as well.

But more to the point, is it already filling with lobster kitsch? No. Currently, the count is one -- just one -- lobster potholder. Whoops, I forgot. There's also a little ceramic tile painted with a red lobster sitting on the stove. But that still seems manageable. I'd say I'm holding fast in my commitment. Oh crap, I forgot about the box of stuffed-animal lobsters, lobster pens, and lobster gummy bears I haven't unpacked yet. (What, you have a problem with bears that are also lobsters? Biology is making dramatic new discoveries every day. For example, think of the rapper Kool Keith's self-portrait in the song "Half Shark-Alligator Half Man.")

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Blog Lobster?

The first question is whether this should be called a "Lobster Blog" at all. Several friends have suggested I call it "Blog Lobster," in honor of the B-52s song, "Rock Lobster." My feeling is that a person can dance to a song but not to a blog, so we ought to avoid misleading titles. (If you are dancing while reading this, contact me immediately.)

THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS won't be in bookstores for another couple of weeks -- June 1st is the book's official publication date -- so I'm writing this during what a fisherman would refer to as the lull before the storm. I've hidden myself away in my office in Boston, hoping to avoid "lobster creep." By this I mean the ever-encroaching supply of lobster-themed goods and paraphernalia that permeates New England -- lobster napkins, lobster dishtowels, lobster potholders, lobster bibs, lobster key chains, lobster lollipops, lobster chocolates. There is even a sex toy boasting a lobster-claw feature. (It's called the Trigasm.)

Don't get me wrong -- I have nothing against these products, and sometimes give them as gifts to others (though I have yet to find a recipient for that last one). But I have become obsessed with lobsters in a way that most people, even lobstermen, are not. I have dedicated several years of my life to catching lobsters, researching their most intimate habits, and exposing their deepest secrets. Although I have a varied career as a writer and editor involving a variety of subjects, this book will probably make me "the lobster guy" for a while. As a result, I have been wondering how to maintain my sanity, and I have arrived at a solution. I will avoid acquiring lobster kitsch.


Hungry?
Jeff Costa as Lobsterman
Already, however, there are signs that this is the wrong approach. Perhaps I need to embrace lobsterhood. Consider, for example, the case of "Lobsterman," who recently achieved nationwide fame on John Stewart's "The Daily Show" as the wrestler who is campaigning to become president of the United States.

A.k.a. Jeff Costa, based in New Hampshire, Lobsterman promotes himself with the motto "It's not about the claws." This seems disingenuous -- clearly it's about the claws. He campaigns in a brilliant red suit decorated with gold sequined lobsters, a flashy red cape, and, most impressively, giant red claws over his hands. I admit to being jealous. If Lobsterman can achieve nationwide fame and presidential status by embracing lobsterness, then perhaps I should surround myself with as much lobster kitsch as I can.

If that's the case I have some catching up to do. Let me take a quick inventory of my office. There are some books about lobsters on the shelf. That's already unusual, but understated. There is a nautical chart on the wall showing the waters around Little Cranberry Island, the island described in my book. However, only the most seasoned insider would know that the chart reveals secrets about the best places to catch lobsters. Under the chart hangs a small framed photograph of the lobster boat I worked on for two years, the Double Trouble. A layman wouldn't even know it was a boat for catching lobsters.

Wait a minute. I forgot to look behind me. Hanging on the wall are a pair of fuzzy foot-long lobsters -- of the stuffed-animal variety. They were a gift, received from a marine biologist. She painstakingly used a needle, thread, and, apparently, some red pipe cleaners to transform these innocent, fuzzy, asexual lobsters into anatomically-correct male and female lobsters. That's right -- stuffed animals capable of getting it on.

So it turns out that I have unwittingly begun to acquire lobster paraphernalia, and in a racy way. The question, however, remains. Will "the lobster guy" retain his grip on the bland, lobster-less reality of everyday life? Or will he succumb to the temptation to transform himself into a red-clawed caped crusader, like the super-heroic Lobsterman, and surround himself with lobster kitsch?