Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast are studying whether invertebrates like lobsters and crabs are able to feel pain and so far results are paving the way to entitle the critters with more rights to protect them.
The study began when its lead researcher, Robert Elmwood, was asked the simple question of “do these animals feel pain?” by curiously compassionate chef, Rick Stein. Stumped, Elmwood set out to discover the answer.
Today, the assumption is that they don’t, which is why invertebrates have no rights when it comes to their protection against cruelty, unlike dogs or farm animals, for example. It is thought by the scientific community in general that these creatures, who make up 98% of the animal kingdom, have only reflexes. In order to find out whether they feel pain and don’t just react involuntarily to painful stimuli, Elmwood had to study not just immediate reaction but more complex behaviors.
Unfortunately to do that, a lot of prodding, shocking and essentially torturing was necessary. But wait, it gets better. After brushing acetic acid on prawns’ antennae, Elmwood’s team found they didn’t just cringe but nursed the wound with their front paws continuously afterwards and when anesthetics were applied beforehand, that nursing diminished.
“These are not just reflexes,” Elwood says about the study that was published on the New Scientist. “This is prolonged and complicated behavior, which clearly involves the central nervous system.”
He also found that crabs continuously rub and try to reach for their dismembered paws when their claws are torn out as they are in fisheries that sell the crabs for meat. They also rapidly learn from that painful experience, altering their behavior to avoid that pain.
Across the Atlantic, Robyn Crook, an evolutionary neurobiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, is doing similar research with squids and found they also show sensitivity to an area where a fin was crushed or a shock applied.
There are still some naysayers in the scientific field but Elmwood and Crooks are paving the way for these creatures to have more rights. Following the results of their study, both researchers are using as less animals as possible and keeping the amount of pain inflicted to a minimum and, most importantly, urging their fellow scientists to do the same.
It’s terrible these animals had to endure such awful procedures but it looks like their kind is on the way to better times — backed by scientific proof to protect them.