A new study has opened up the possibility that crabs can feel pain, and researcher Robert Elwood says it could be a catalyst to get those in the food industry to think differently about how sea creatures are treated.
Elwood, an animal behaviorist at Queen's University, Belfast, conducted an experiment using crabs and low-voltage shocks, giving the crabs a choice between two different shelters inside a tank. One shelter held a slight shock; the other didn't. What Elwood found surprised him: after a couple of zaps, the crabs would choose the other shelter every time.
"It's almost impossible to prove an animal feels pain, but there are criteria you can look at," said Elwood. "Here we have another criteria satisfied — if the data are consistent, a body of evidence [showing crabs feel pain] can build up."
The practice shows that the crabs were exhibiting a behavior called avoidance learning. When they were shocked more than once, they learned that a particular shelter brings pain. And while the study isn't finite for all crustaceans, Elwood says it certainly sheds new light on a creature we previously didn't know much about. It could also change the way things are done in regards to the food service industry.
"If the evidence for pain in decapods continues to stack up with mammals and birds that already get some protection, then perhaps there should be some nod in that direction for these animals," he said.