Lobster Cannibalism

Written by on December 6, 2012 in Marine Life
American lobster.

American lobster. Photo credit: NOAA/NEFSC.

Due to warming waters and fewer predators, the lobster population in the Gulf of Maine is thriving. While this sounds like a good thing (for the lobsters, at least), it has led to such crowded conditions that the lobsters have resorted to eating each other.

If you’ve ever looked at the live lobsters in a grocery store or fish market, you’ve probably noticed that they’re claws are banded. This isn’t just for the protection of the person who has to take the lobsters out of the tank, it’s for the lobsters themselves. When confined together in a small space, lobsters will become aggressive and attack and even eat each other. Scientists though this behavior was due to confinement and it wasn’t thought to occur in nature.

“We’ve got the lobsters feeding back on themselves just because they’re so abundant,” explained Richard Wahle, a marine sciences professor at the University of Maine. “It’s never been observed just out in the open like this.”

In 1981, the lobster catch in Maine totaled 23 million pounds; last year it was up to 104 million and current estimates say that 2012 will exceed that record.

The population is booming because groundfish that feed on lobsters, like cod and halibut have been severely depleted due to overfishing, while climate change is increasing the water temperature. In the Long Island Sound and southern New England, warming waters have caused an increase in disease and therefore decreasing population numbers, but the opposite is true in the Gulf of Maine.

“The population of lobsters in Maine has skyrocketed and there have been some interesting changes in abundance, demographics and, we believe, behavior,” said Noah Oppenheim, a graduate student working with Wahle.

During the daytime, predation is due primarily to fish, but Oppenheim says that “eight out of nine times at night, predation is due to cannibalism.”

Banded lobster claw.

Banded lobster claw. Photo credit: junehug via photopin cc

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Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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