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Lobster Cannibalism Caught on Camera as Numbers Continue to Soar [VIDEO]

Jul 25, 2013 10:52 AM EDT

When Noah Oppenheim tied up a young lobster and dropped it back into the ocean with a camera in tow he was anxious to see what creatures would come along to take a bite.

The answer shocked the marine biology graduate student studying at the University of Maine: lobsters, it turns out, feed on each other even in their own habitat.

Warm water, which reuslts in bigger lobsters and more offspring, in addition to overfishing of their predators means the creature's numbers have been at an all-time-high in the North Atlantic over the last few years, causing increased competition for food. And while lobsters are known to turn on each other once in captivity, the circumstances appear to have the crustaceans chomping down on one another in the wild, too.

In fact, Oppenheim found over the course of his study that the young lobsters were 90 percent more likely to be eaten by their own kind than any other animal.

A year after this discovery, lobsters are still blanketing the North Atlantic, and they aren't the only ones suffering from their excess. With the supply so high, prices have tumbled, hurting local economies.

Meanwhile, their dominance is a clear indicator of the state of their predators, which include -- besides themselves -- flounder, cod, eels, seals and, of course, people.

Among those leading in the decline from this group are cod. The average catch of the fish in tons in the North Atlantic, for instance, dropped from a high of 800,000 during the early 1970s to well below 100,000 tons in the mid-1990s, rising just barely during the mid-2000s, according to the United Nations Environment Program.

Around the same time, the number of eels in the area declined from nearly 1 million in 1985 to approximately zero in 2001, according to Sea Web.

Still, researchers warn, the lobster faces an unclear future, and not because of a loss of food supply. 

The American lobster is cold-blooded and as water temperatures continue to rise, not only do they grow bigger, but their demand for oxygen increases, causing physiological stress that then leads them vulnerable to disease.

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