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Scientists Discover Lobster Cannibalism in Wild

Dec 04, 2012 09:25 AM EST
(Photo : Reuters)

Warming waters are causing lobsters in the Gulf of Maine to indulge in cannibalism, where the big lobsters seem to feast on smaller ones, reports Reuters.

Whilst lobsters are known to attack each other when they are located in a small space, this is the first time such a fierce behavior is observed in the wild.

Increasing population of the lobsters in the Gulf of Maine is seen as the reason behind lobsters' behavior of eating each other in the wild. Overfishing of species like cod and halibut that feed on lobsters is also been blamed for the abundant population of the crustaceans. Warming ocean waters due to climate change has also played a significant role in the population growth of the lobsters, according to the researchers. 

"We've got the lobsters feeding back on themselves just because they're so abundant," Richard Wahle, a marine sciences professor at the University of Maine, who is supervising the research, told Reuters. "It's never been observed just out in the open like this," he said.

Noah Oppenheim, a graduate student who is working with Wahle, recorded the aggressive behavior of the lobsters by observing a small lobster tied with a rope to a place on the ocean floor off Pemaquid Point in the midcoast of Maine.

Researchers noticed that the young lobster was fed by fish during the day time. But during the night, they found that the small lobster was attacked by the bigger ones. Oppenheim carried out the experiment at least 18 times and in all tests the bigger lobsters were found to feed on the smaller ones.

"The population of lobsters in Maine has skyrocketed and there have been some interesting changes in abundance, demographics and, we believe, behavior," Oppenheim said. "Eight out of nine times at night, predation is due to cannibalism."

The results of the study are just preliminary. It remains to be seen whether juvenile lobsters are able to escape from the bigger lobsters, if given the chance, Oppenheim tells Portland Press Herald.

The findings of the study were presented at "The American Lobster in a Changing Ecosystem" symposium in Portland, Maine last week.

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