The Secret Life of Lobsters is not one of those Victorian Gentlemen’s Entertainments, though it has a lot of bullying, fight clubs, sex, violence, home invasions, pissing contests, extreme nudity, pilgrimages, super-heroes, robots and alien autopsies. And that’s just the lobsters.
The Secret Life of Lobsters is much more than about lobsters, the book, written by Trevor Corson, is as much about the people who fish lobsters and the researchers who study what happens on the bottom of the sea. Expanded from a feature in Atlantic Monthly, the book is an engaging read, both for the inhabitants of Maine’s Little Cranberry Island, and for the fascinating details of the life of the American lobster, and one of the few sustainable fisheries on the East Coast.
Corson writes from what he knows, he has spent most of his life in and around Maine, and spent two years working on a lobster boat as a sternman, baiting, dropping and hauling traps. The book started as an article in The Atlantic Magazine, but is quite different from the original article. A large part of the book deals with the people of Little Cranberry Island who trap lobsters, and the researchers who try to discover the life cycle of this crustacean which has been around for 150 million years.
Lobstering is one of the few sustainable fisheries because it is bottom up, there is no top-down corporate factory, and most catches go back into the ocean since there are regulations about minimum and maximum sizes, plus “v-notching”, cutting a notch into the tail of egg-bearing females and throwing them back. He doesn’t gloss over what is one of the most dangerous livelihoods in the world.
The description of the discovery of the life cycle of the lobster is really interesting, such as how lobsters breed, and the role of molting in their life. Since lobsters are crustaceans, when they grow, they have to shed their exoskeleton, which leaves them vulnerable, and the only time for females when they can mate. Normally combative, lobsters spend most of their time fighting amongst themselves, and sense their environment through chemical receptors in their antenna. However, through emission of the right chemicals in their urine, they establish molting and mating. One of their greatest threats is pesticide runoff into coastal waters.
One of the intriguing parts of the book is how most of the researchers justify their studies by saying that they can eat the results after the experiment is over.
The only real drawback to this fascinating book is the lack of maps or diagrams of lobster anatomy, especially in the section describing the early life cycle of the lobster and territories of lobster fishing. However at the official site, there are a bunch of photos (though not of the lobster caught wearing Barbie clothes and high-heels). And here’s a map of Maine, it’s not all Stephen King, y’know.