Today, my friends, a lobster was pardoned.
And by the end of this post I guarantee you will be inordinately glad about that.
The Governor of Conneticut, Daniel P. Malloy, is on a tour of the state’s tourist attractions, and happened upon Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough restaurant in Noank.
The lobster was bound for the dinner plate: but according to KTUL.com, the Governor took one look at its soulful little crustacean eyes and issued an immediate pardon. He took it to the nearby Mystic River: and he freed it. Be free, little lobster.
Perhaps he has been talking to trainers at the New England Aquarium.
We’ve all seen performing seals. Ark Ark. And performing dolphins. We know they have big brains and big personalities.
But the trainers at New England Aquarium decided to think out of the box. Could they train other marine animals? Specifically, was it possible to get a lobster to do a backflip?
“If we are capable of training the lobsters to do certain behaviors and they are able to remember them, it may shed more light on crustacean brain power,” one trainer said on the trainers’ blog: “One behavior some of us are attempting to train is to turn over on their back on a signal. These small lobsters sometimes do this on their own when being fed so our challenge is to get them to do it on cue.”
They claim they have done it: the lobster has enough brain power to respond to a cue. The most recent blog post- 2009 – showed a lobster able to come over to the trainer when he saw a shell on the end of a stick.
There’s a murky clip of a lobster being fed on its back and a comment from someone who, enthused by the whole business, claims to have trained their angelfish to jump through hoops.
But seriously, lobsters’ little neurons simply aren’t up to working for the armed forces yet.
Which is a shame, because they have an epic sense of smell. They are like the bloodhounds of the deep sea bed. And if you could train a lobster, well, you might get them to play sniffer dog and sniff out mines.
Stay with me here.
Three top American universities-Stanford, California at Berkeley, and Bowling Green State- have been trying to work out how lobsters actually smell things. While it is not a clever creature, academics insist experiments show it is very good at tracing the tell-tale plumes of TNT which leak from mines in the sea.
“Live lobsters don’t behave — it’s pretty hard to train a lobster,” John Crimaldi, assistant professor of engineering at the University of Colorado told wired.com.
What if you could make a robot with the same sense of smell and instant biddability?
Oh, yes. They’re trying to make a bionic sea-bloodhound, a synthetic sniffer-lobster.
Out there at the NorthEastern Marine Science Center in Massachusetts, they’re messing about with polymer backbones and electronic nervous systems and synthetic sensors.
And it’s that last bit that’s the controversial one. It seems the secret of the lobster’s success lies in two two-inch long antennae, covered in odour sensitive hairs. And to reproduce those we must wander into the murky waters of synthetic biology.
Because they can synthesise tissue to do the lobster’s job now. And they can devise complex engineering to act on the information the tissue sends and receives.
Before long, robot lobsters, part machine, part synthetic tissue, will patrol the sea floors of troubled parts of the world, sniffing out mines.
Jules Verne would just love this.