The existence of pain in crustaceans is a notoriously debated subject; while some say the process of cooking shellfish alive is harmless, others maintain its inhumanity. Mostly due to the manner in which their brief life in captivity gets boiled away before their very eyes as they (tastily) pass on. And since crabs naturally seek dark hideaways, Professor Robert Elwood from the Queen’s University Belfast decided that the best way to determine whether crustaceans experienced pain would be to see if an electric jolt was enough of a deterrent to steer crabs from their natural desire for cover.
In the study, 90 crabs were individually dumped into a tank with two lovely plots of dark, protective real estate, one of which delivered an unpleasant electric shock to its new resident. The crabs who picked the painful hideaway would be removed, given time to reflect on their poor life choices, and dropped back in for round two. Most still chose their initial home regardless of shock factor on the second try, but in the third round, almost all of the electrocuted crabs went looking for other options.
According to Elwood, the crabs quickly learned shock avoidance provides clear evidence of their unfortunate ability to feel pain. One bright spot in this less than pleasant news: tastiness levels continue to remain unaffected. [Journal of Experimental Biology]