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What About Shellfish?

This article originally appeared on PETA Prime.

CrabWhen people decide to stop eating animals, they may leave some species on their plates because they believe that those animals don’t feel pain. It’s now generally accepted in the scientific community that mammals, birds, and fish have feelings, preferences, and the ability to sense pain. But what about shellfish?

The term “shellfish” covers a wide range of invertebrate aquatic animals used by humans as food. The most frequently eaten shellfish are crustaceans (shrimps, lobsters, and crabs) and mollusks, a broad category that includes cephalopods (squids and octopuses) and bivalves (animals with hinged shells such as clams, oysters, and scallops).

Cephalopods are considered among the most intelligent of the invertebrates. An octopus named Otto in a German aquarium passed the time by juggling the hermit crabs in his tank.

He mystified the staff by causing frequent electrical outages until they finally caught him in the act of climbing up on the edge of his tank and firing a jet of water at the light fixture. Octopuses have even successfully navigated mazes. Squids and octopuses have very different physiology than mammals do, but they can play, learn, and think—and they don’t deserve to be served for dinner.

Some people believe that shrimps, crabs, and lobsters—all of whom are more closely related to insects than to vertebrate animals—cannot feel pain at all. But recent scientific studies have shown that crustaceans have central nervous systems very much capable of generating the sensation of pain. Crustaceans release stress hormones (analogous to our adrenal hormones) in response to painful events. If you’ve ever seen a lobster or crab lowered into a pot of boiling water, you’ve seen these animals fight just as hard for their lives as any other animal would in the same situation. A lobster can’t scream, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel agony in the time it takes for him to boil to death. And crustaceans suffer in other ways—they are often transported alive to restaurants and grocery stores and crowded into tanks where they are so stressed that their claws must be banded shut to prevent them from attacking each other.

Without obvious legs or faces, bivalves look less animal-like than other shellfish. But they’re capable of a surprising variety of behavior. Scallops can swim away from predators by “flapping” their shells. They can detect light and movement with small eyes that are located around the perimeter of their bodies. Clams can escape by burrowing through sand. Mussels are able to gradually move to a better home, reanchoring themselves in a new location. Oysters protect their soft bodies by snapping their shells tightly closed at the first hint of danger.

As we learn more about the many animal species with whom we share this planet, we keep discovering that they are more intelligent, more feeling, and more empathetic than we had previously realized. The evidence for sentience in squids, octopuses, and crustaceans is increasingly clear. We don’t yet know whether oysters feel pain, but if they do, they represent a very large number of suffering animals—a single meal might require the deaths of 12 or more oysters. We don’t need to consume oysters, scallops, and clams to survive. Is the flavor of Oysters Rockefeller or New England Clam Chowder so important to us that we can’t give these animals the benefit of the doubt?

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  • xofox says:

    I am a very new vegan and while doing my research on my new lifestyle I kept asking myself “is lobster ok” Well i just found my answer. I knew that coming into this life would be a huge sacrifice and massive change but I am so happy that I did make this decision. The thought of an animal screaming with fear in its eyes, the fear of being terminated..does not sit well with me.

  • Michelangelo says:

    As a pesco-vegetarian my entire life I always felt like a hypocrite. Being born and raised in New Orleans is so hard to stay away from seafood and I guess I convinced myself that seafood don’t have the same “feelings” as mammals, but I like what you said
    “err on the side of compassion” and that’s what I’m going to do. Thanks!

  • Ashley-P says:

    Heye Dede, There are certain creatures—like scallops, oysters, and shrimp—that we just don’t know a whole lot about. We aren’t sure how much pain and suffering they are capable of feeling. Here at PETA, we urge people to “err on the side of compassion.” Since we don’t know for sure that these creatures can’t suffer, we opt to assume they do and act accordingly.

  • Ashley-P says:

    Hey JohaCV, By taking a stand against even one form of animal abuse or exploitation—and by helping us educate the public about these issues—our supporters are making a big difference. By helping us publicize the truth about animal suffering, YOUare helping to save the lives of countless animals. To deny people the chance to speak out against something they believe in, simply because they may not be “all the way there” on all animal rights issues, would be unfair to them and to the animals.

  • sammiisme says:

    It’s terrible that people don’t realise that shellfish are animals too…and they feel the same pain! 🙁

  • Conscientious Plant Eater says:

    I am always considering all aspects of an animals life when deciding whether it is appropriate to eat said species. Now I think ideally no animal product should be eaten but when you consider an animals suffering during death, during life, desire to live, lifespan, reproductive numbers i.e. when we talk about shrimp or other small animals if thousands upon thousands of a species dies during every life cycle, they live relatively short lives, they aren’t aware of their lives, then I think they are lower on my list of protection than other animals. I think it is more important to encourage people to be conscious about what they are eating and that is why I do appreciate this article because I obviously think about this a lot and would like to know if an animal such as a lobster is feeling pain because I will factor that into my decision whether or not to eat an animal. I encourage all people to eat food, mostly plants!

  • Amisha says:

    Well written article. Walking into places like Summer Shack makes me sick to my stomach. I swear I’ve heard a lobster scream inside of a boiling pot before. They deserve to live as long and as happily as they want! Meat is certainly murder!

  • Mette Abrahamsen says:

    Yes, shellfish do have feelings just like other animals, so I will say again: Handle them with care. They have right to live too.

  • Melissa says:

    I used to eat seafood until one day I heard a horrible noise while someone was cooking a lobster. that was the day I realize I couldnt do it anymore, what makes me want to kill an animal when I can eat things other things, I can get my protein from vegetables or tofu.
    I am a vegan thanks to PETA and I am proud of it.
    Animals suffer, if you dont think is correct for you to eat your pet ( cat, dog, fish) what makes you think is correct to eat other animals.?

  • Dede says:

    actually Oysters do not have pain receptors, nor do they have families nor do they live in communities. Many scientists have proven that Oysters are actually vegan as their life form is more closely related to plants than to animals. Clams similarly, but not mussels, squid, shrimp or other sea life.

  • JohaCV says:

    question.. do I have to be a complete vegetarian to be a member of peta or to save animals??