In what is described in the media as a first-of-its-kind study, a marine biology student at the University of Maine has captured footage of lobsters eating other lobsters in the wild. While this type of crustacean cannibalism has been seen before, usually it was observed with lobsters in captivity.
The student, Noah Oppenheim, caught the phenomenon on video by using an underwater infrared technique. He was conducting an experiment, but the outcome was not quite what he'd expected.
First, Oppenheim attached a young lobster underneath the video camera along with a leash. Then he dropped it into the waters off the Maine coast to see what types of predators would arrive to eat the lobster. The lobster had no way to escape.
What Oppenheim expected to find on his footage was cod, herring and other types of fish living on the ocean's bottom looking to the lobster for its next meal. Instead, what he found was shocking, the predators going after the young lobster were none other than other larger lobsters.
Why are lobsters eating other lobsters?
Oppenheim believes the lobster cannibalism is occurring due to climate change, over-fishing of predators and excess bait left in lobster traps.
The student shared his findings with Climate Desk who made an extended video with a more detailed explanation of why lobsters are eating one another.
"Oppenheim has seen that young lobsters left overnight under his camera are over 90 percent more likely to be eaten by another lobster than by anything else," writes Climate Desk.
Warmer weather creates lobsters to grow larger and produce more offspring, reported Climate Desk. Noting the last 10 years have been the warmest on record in Maine's waters, the lobster population has significantly grown.
While other fish are hauled out of the waters by humans, the ever-growing population of lobsters have nothing else to eat but one another.
"As the water temperatures elevate, lobsters both become more fecund,” said Oppenheim. "They reproduce more frequently and with larger broods and they grow more rapidly. If we enjoy eating lobsters perhaps other lobsters enjoy eating lobsters too."
According to Mother Nature Network, earlier experiments performed 20 years ago found other fish were feeding on lobster bait.
At this time the study has not been published, said Oppenheim's supervisor, Richard Wahle. At this time it is too soon to claim that lobsters are "habitual cannibals." One thing that was evident, however, was that the cannibalism was occurring at night.
"While during the day we had, perhaps, fewer fish but more crabs than we’d expect from previous years, what was really shocking was the prevalence of lobsters as predators at night," said Wahle, reported the Chronicle Herald. "It was pretty much 100 percent lobsters eating the small tethered lobsters."
It is unclear if the lobsters go after others that aren't "leashed" to one location. The lobster used in the experiment had no way to try and escape.
According to the Chronicle Herald, Diane Cowan, another Maine lobster scientist, said she does not believe cannibalism would occur in the wild under normal circumstances.
"It’s an artifact of being tethered," Cowan said.