By Paula Moore
A crowd of well-wishers recently gathered at Manomet Point in Plymouth, Massachusetts, to see off a new friend as he journeyed back home. The traveler was a 15-pound lobster named Donovan, on the final leg of a nearly 1,000-mile trek. After spending weeks in a tank in a Potomac, Maryland, seafood store, Donovan, estimated to be between 35 and 40 years old, was being returned to the Atlantic Ocean, courtesy of a sympathetic customer who shelled out $150 for his release and another $100 to send him home.
This is just the beginning. The trend in lobster liberation will continue, and it will expand to other sea animals. Fish freedom is cooming. All it takes is for one person to say she's leaving fish in their ocean homes and off the barbecue grill, and for others to stop and really think about herr decision.
Donovan is not the first sea animal to escape becoming someone's dinner. In March, newspapers across the country reported on Bubba, a 22-pound lobster who was saved from a fish market and shipped to the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium (where, sadly, he died in quarantine). Last year, schoolchildren in Port Angeles, Washington, rescued 14-pound Hercules from a supermarket tank and sent the lucky lobster to Maine for release.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals hears from so many concerned shoppers who want to help after seeing lobsters languishing in grocery store tanks, we've set up a Web site with tips on successful crustacean liberations.
Can crab crusaders be far behind? I don't think so. As we learn more about sea animals and how similar they are to us in so many ways more and more people are having trouble with the idea of putting them on the table.
In March, newspaper science pages were filled with stories about octopuses playing charades in order to avoid harm. Two little species of Indian Ocean octopuses, one no bigger than a walnut, were videotaped disguising themselves as coconuts or clumps of floating algae with six of their arms, while walking away from danger, backwards, using the other two, discreditinng the theory that walking requires hard bones and skeletal muscle.
Researchers are also debunking some old fish stories about fish. We now know that fish are smart. They feel pain. They have complex social structures and can recognize individual "shoal" mates. Some fish gather information by eavesdropping on others and some use tools, such as the South African fish who lay their eggs on leaves and then carry them to safety. Fish even like to play: Oscar fish will toss and push ping pong balls floating on the surface of their water.
A recent issue of the journal Fish and Fisheries cited more than 500 research papers proving that fish are clever, have impressive long-term memories and sophisticated social structures and can use tools. The introductory chapter said fish are "steeped in social intelligence, pursuing Machiavellian strategies of manipulation, punishment and reconciliation." Sound like anyone you know?
If you find the idea of eating Flipper (or Fido) hard to swallow, then flounders should be off your plate, too. Liberating old lobsters like Donovan is a good first step, but let's extend our compassion to all sentient beings. The best way to start is to stop eating them.
Paula Moore is senior writer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.lobsterlib.com.
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