The concept of sentience across the animal kingdom is one that is and has been discussed, researched, and debated for centuries. What does it mean to be sentient? How can you tell if a specific animal qualifies as such? How does this affect how we treat and live with these creatures? For certain water dwelling animals, these questions have been even more prominent. Thanks to some research scientists from the UK, we’re learning that yes, lobsters, octopi, squids, and other cephalopods and crustaceans are indeed sentient.
To simplify all this into a question that many a cook and seafood aficionado has asked, “do lobsters feel pain?” This subject is frequently brought up because of questions of animal rights and the cooking method of boiling lobsters alive. It’s enough of a quandary that the UK Government commissioned a review by the London School of Economics and Political Science to determine the answer. According to a CNN report, the LSE looked over about 300 different scientific studies to come to their conclusion that yes, these animals are sentient and lobsters do feel pain. Physical pain that is, the studies didn’t seem to dive into emotional pain at all.
Why are these particular classifications of animals so hotly debated and studied? Part of it has to do to the aforementioned cooking and potential abuse of them. The other goes to a legitimate question of whether or not they can feel pain, due to being invertebrates. Being vertebrates ourselves, we’re familiar with the kind of central nervous system that goes along with that. For invertebrates though, one could wrongly assume that because they lack a backbone and central nervous system, that their central nervous system would be less complicated.
And to what end is the UK so invested in this? Well, the government is currently in the process of trying to push forward a new bill entitled the Animal Welfare Bill. Once put into law, the bill aims to establish the Animal Sentience Committee. Their job will be to advise the government on how their decisions and policies are effective the well-being of sentient animals. Effectively it could be seen as a kind of Environmental Protection Agency, specifically geared towards sentient animal life.
Curiously though, the bill will have no immediate impact on the food industry and how they transport and prepare cephalopods and the like. Granted the food industry is a huge source of revenue and immediate changes could cause some issues, but it does seem a touch hypocritical that they’d declare these animals to be sentient and then be like, “Eh we can treat them better later.” Actually in a way, isn’t it kind of worse? I mean, before this the thought process was, “Well we don’t know if they can feel pain, maybe they do but, let’s cook ’em horribly anyway.” Now it’s, “Oh yes, totally sentient, can definitely feel pain. Let’s keep doing what we’re doing; pass the butter.”
Still, the concept of sentience is a fascinating one and something to give pause to contemplate when it comes to our connection with the other species that inhabit the planet. Life is an ornate and beautiful thing with so many things left to discover. Here’s hoping the lobsters don’t eventually seek revenge. Anyone who’s read Stephen King’s second installment of “The Dark Tower” can tell you what happens when you cross paths with a lobstrosity.