Lobster Training for Beginners.

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?

Cue the Biomimetic Underwater Robot Program.

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.

Picture source here and here


31 thoughts on “Lobster Training for Beginners.

    1. There’s the 64 thousand dollar question, Sidey. We don’t even have a proper understanding of the sentience of the animals who surround us now, but I am sure that will not stop our scientists tumbling over themselves to cross th next scientific barrier.

  1. Some, like Gerard de Nerval, felt that they made very good pets and would walk his lobster, Thibault, attached to a blue ribbon, through the Tuileries. Something tells me that Homer Simpson tried it as well.

    1. Trust a poet to see the possibilties in a lobster.

      “Why should a lobster be any more ridiculous than a dog? …or a cat, or a gazelle, or a lion, or any other animal that one chooses to take for a walk? I have a liking for lobsters. They are peaceful, serious creatures. They know the secrets of the sea, they don’t bark, and they don’t gnaw upon one’s monadic privacy like dogs do. And Goethe had an aversion to dogs, and he wasn’t mad.”

  2. What the US Navy has trained porpoises to do in offensive and defensive undersea warfare is just astonishing. Seems criminal to contaminate nature’s creatures with such “enhancement”. We all should take a lesson from angel fish.

  3. Has anyone noticed the rather odd acronym for this study? Apparently, when the trained lobster detects the object of its search, it would send a special signal….a large BURP.

    1. A cyborg assassin with ten legs that can smell a human at 50 paces. Erk. I think, perhaps, Lindsay, its time for a follow-up docudrama. It has droll, if terrifying, potential.

  4. Sometimes, I wonder; I guess all these scientist-types are well-meaning, but what if…..

    Thought you might be interested to see how large “Larry” actually appears: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/07/conn-man-rescues-80-year-old-lobster-from-restaurant-menu/ His rescuer was absolutely right on; but too bad he wasn’t aware of this program. Larry might have been a prime student, ’cause surely a lobster wily enough to grow to this age and dimension must already be quite wise. 🙂

    1. You’ve got to love a lobster like Larry, Karen 😀 Lucky indeed! I wonder if he has any idea how close he came to being on the menu?

      I suddenly have a mad urge to buy a lobster and set it free too. Restaurants could be on to something. A new eco- craze where they never cook a thing, but kidnap lobsters with menaces so we can play Sir Galahad and purchase their lives.

    1. Aw, you New Yorkers, always with the fresh suggestions for fusion cuisine.

      He is a cool bionic lobster, isn’t he?

      (That’s not a phrase I ever envisaged writing down in my whole life.)

  5. Dear Kate, your first commentor expressed the concern I have. The world of technology, I know, has gone way beyond my ken. I’m not at all sure where all this leading us with regard to morality. Peace.

  6. You might find this intriguing. The term “lobster shift” (or “trick”) is a slang term of derision because lobsters were considered to be stupid. Informally, the term is used to describe ‘any working force.” (Webster’s dictionary)

    I suspect the lobster would prefer to be appreciated for its intelligence rather than as the main course at dinner.

    The notion of a lobster being used to sniff out TNT, etc. is just wild. Thank you, Kate, for this interesting post.

  7. And to think the colonials were feeding them to the livestock.

    The NEAq is an amazing place. I’m reminded to take Felix soon. Of course, he sees lobsters, and sees another dinner he won’t eat, but he does love to watch them in the tanks at the grocery store.

    A cheating glance at the wee pseudo-lobster made me think Steampunk! rightaway, and then you mention Jules Verne. Perfect!

  8. Heard another fascinating lecture this week on biomimicry which is much more my speed. Decide what we are trying to achieve and then look around to see what elements of nature do it best.

  9. I didn’t know any of this about lobsters. Yet another reason for me to feel guilty about not being vegan.

  10. Truly fascinating…I am truly amazed at the minds that originally conceive the questions and then go forward with their research! I never was comfortable with the idea of dropping these little creatures into boiling pots of water! D

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