Basic Facts About American Lobsters
The American lobster is a large marine crustacean found on the Atlantic coast of North America. Within North America, it is also known as the northern lobster, Atlantic lobster or Maine lobster. It thrives in cold, shallow waters where there are many rocks and other places to hide from predators and is both solitary and nocturnal.
Lobsters have exoskeletons (shells) that provide both structural support and protection. As they grow from their larval stage into their juvenile state they must molt, or shed, old shells and grow new ones to accommodate their increase in size.
Behavior and Diet
For the first few weeks of life while in the larval stage, the lobster will float within three feet of the surface feeding on zooplankton. After digging its hole to see it through its first year, the lobster will feed on animals that are carried by the currents.
When big enough, the lobster will venture out to feed on food that drifts down from the surface or even on tiny shrimp, despite the fact that the shrimp are twice the baby lobster’s size. When it reaches adulthood, the lobster will feed on crabs, clams, mussels, worms, and an occasional sea urchin or flounder. A lobster may eat up to 100 different kinds of animals, and occasionally eats some plants as well.
Female lobster will carry fertilized eggs under her tail for 9 to 12 months until they hatch into a larval stage. The baby lobsters will swim near the surface of the ocean and molt 3 times in their first month. Soon after, the lobsters look for a place to dig a hole and hide for the first years of their life to stay away from predators. Of the thousands of eggs the mother releases only 1/10 of 1% will make it past the first four weeks of life.
The American lobster can be found as far south as North Carolina up through the coast of Canada to Newfoundland. Since it is found in highest concentrations in Maine it is also sometimes called the Maine lobster. Lobsters can live in many underwater environments but seem to prefer rocky areas with plenty of places to hide.
Lobster populations along the Atlantic Coast used to be much larger, but in recent years there has been a rapid decline as the lobster populations migrate north to cooler waters. However, even this migration is not enough as lobster populations are facing multiple threats from global warming.
Since the late 1990’s, the lobster populations from Massachusetts to North Carolina have seen a huge decrease in numbers along with massive die offs from disease. This has mostly been linked to bacteria and environmental stresses caused by warmer temperatures along the bottom of the ocean.
If that weren’t enough, as carbon dioxide (CO2) levels continue to rise, the oceans are becoming more acidic. The lobster, like clams, uses calcium from sea water to form their shells. As the water becomes more acidic it is harder for the lobster to get the calcium needed to harden the shell. This also leaves it more susceptible to disease as well as using up more energy to create the shell, leaving the animal stressed. Also, as the lobsters migrate northward they are encountering very dense populations which makes proliferation of diseases like shell rot much higher among populations.
Reasons For Hope
The American lobster is synonymous with New England as a cultural icon and people are taking great steps to ensure its survival. The New England Aquarium and many others like it are involved in captive breeding programs to help boost lobster survival rates by releasing them when they out of their most vulnerable growth stages. Fisherman are also using a system where they will notch a females tail and throw her back if she is caught so that there are more females to breed.