Is It Cruel to Boil a Live Lobster? (Includes Humane Alternatives)

by Becky

January 30, 2021

For years you have heard that the best way to prepare lobster meat and get the most taste out of this animal is to throw them into boiling water.

This has been a widely accepted method for a long time and does tend to bring out many good flavors.

However, times have changed and many wonder if it is cruel to boil a live lobster. 

Most scientists and animal activists agree that it is cruel to boil a live lobster. Lobsters do not have an advanced nervous system, but they do understand how to stay away from anything that may hurt them. Placing them in boiling water will cause them to feel pain until the second they die.

In this article, we look at why it's cruel to boil a live lobster and the controversial science behind why some people believe they can't feel pain. We also share the more humane cooking options you can try.

Trust us; you are going to want to read the humane options. According to science, electrocution may be the best option.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Is Boiling a Live Lobster Cruel?

There are two sides to this theory about whether boiling a live lobster is cruel or not. They include:

  • Those who believe lobsters can feel pain and therefore it is cruel to boil live lobsters.
  • Those who believe lobsters can’t feel pain and so it is fine to boil live lobsters.

Many believe that boiling a live lobster is cruel to do. While lobsters do have a less developed brain and nervous system compared to a human, it is still capable of feeling pain and discomfort.

When placed in boiling water while it is alive, the lobster can feel the heat and will basically burn alive in the process.

Scientists who have spent time studying the lobster, including Robert Elwood from Belfast, Northern Ireland, believe that despite having a rudimentary nervous system that does not include a sophisticated brain, lobsters do have feelings.

At least, the consensus is that they know what hurts them and will work to avoid it.

The avoidance of pain is thought to be more than just a reflex.

Many who state that a lobster is fine in hot water believe that when the lobster feels the hot water, they do not feel pain.

They simply have reflexes that make them jolt away from the hot water.

But just like humans do when boiling water touches our skin, the lobster can jerk away from the pain as well.

Does Boiling a Lobster Hurt the Lobster?

A lobster being cut

One thing to consider is that there is more cruelty to what happens to the lobster before you even take it home to boil them and eat them.

When the lobster is put into a tank, there can be some potential cruelty and damage as well, including:

  • Stress from being in a small tank.
  • Confinement and not enough room to move around;
  • Lower oxygen levels for being crammed into a small tank and not taken care of; and
  • Crowding as sellers try to fit as many lobsters into the same tank as possible.

This means that a lobster may endure a good deal of pain long before they even get to your home.

When you see them sitting in the tank at the store, it is likely that they are already being put through an enormous amount of stress and are not able to handle it at all.

Once you get the lobster to your home, there are a few other issues that can come up and add to this animal's suffering. Before you start to eat the lobster, you will likely do a few other steps, including:

  • Cutting open the lobster to make sure the meat is cooked well; and
  • Boiling water and adding the lobster in while they are still alive.

Both of these can cause an enormous amount of pain and suffering to the lobster, in the end, causing them to die.

Once they come out of the pot of hot water, they will be cooked and ready for you to eat. But they went through a good deal of suffering in the process.

Does the Lobster Scream While Being Cooked?

Many people believe they hear the lobster scream when they place the animal in boiling water.

Science has proven that it is not the lobster itself that is screaming, but the noise does come from the reaction between the lobster and the hot water when they combine.

While the lobster does not scream while you are cooking it in boiling water, the noise is a reminder of the horrible process the lobster will go through when you decide to boil it to cook.

The noise may come from:

  • The air that comes out of the stomach when it is sliced open; and
  • The cold skin of the lobster when it warms up in the boiling water.

You may also notice that when you place the lobster inside the pot with boiling water, they move and squirm around, trying to get away from the pain.

This is further evidence that the lobster feels the hot water and is being tortured in the process. 

Does Grilling the Lobster Work Better?

A lobster cooking on the grill

Some food magazines recommend that you avoid boiling the lobster and instead consider grilling the lobster.

With this method, you will slice the lobster in half, or cut it into several pieces, and then add them to the hot grill. However, there are still some problems with this method.

Since lobsters do not come with an autonomic nervous system, they do not go into shock when they are harmed, such as what happens when you chop them in half.

This means that it is more likely the lobster feels that you cut into it, and they will continue to feel the pain from that cut until you destroy the whole nervous system during cooking.

In the end, this means that:

  • Boiling the lobster in water is cruel;
  • Chopping and grilling the lobster is is cruel; and
  • Any method that involves cooking a lobster before killing it is cruel.

Are There Humane Ways to Cook a Lobster?

After reading through all of the above, you may wonder if there are any humane ways to cook your lobster at home.

While some sites like PETA suggest going vegan and not eating lobster and other animals at all, there are a few other methods that are generally accepted for cooking a lobster without being cruel to them.

The best way to cook your lobster without being cruel is to make them not feel pain.

And several methods help with this, including:

  • Using aquatic fish anesthetic - A study into the killing of the Australian giant crab using a food-grade anesthetic (AQUI-S) showed that adding the drug into the seawater tank killed the crustacean in less than 25 minutes without any signs of distress. The anesthetic has been approved in Australia, Chile, New Zealand, Korea, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Norway.
  • Using a shock system that electrocutes the lobster - a study in 2010 found that electrical stunning was more humane than boiling, chilling, freezing, gassing (CO2), and immersion in salt solutions. The humane method combines electrical stunning to render the crustacean unconscious in 1 second and then boiling them to prevent recovery of consciousness. Today there are a few commercial applications of the electrical stunning devices such as the crustastun and stansas commercial stunner.
  • Splitting - Splitting involves destroying the central nervous system of the lobster by rapidly cutting through the center-line of the head, thorax, and abdomen into two identical longitudinal halves. The process should take less than 10 seconds, according to the Aquatic Animal Welfare Guidelines of the Australian National Aquatic Council.

These may seem strange compared to some of the other methods traditionally used.

But they help the lobster not feel pain while they are being cooked. They will instantly kill the lobster without discomfort, making them preferable options to boiling water or grilling the animal.


For many years people believed that lobsters were incapable of feeling pain or even having emotions at all.

Boiling lobsters while they were still alive, was and still is a popular thing to do to get tasty meat from the animal.

However, many do not stop and think about the amount of cruelty they put the lobster through before and during the cooking process.

Recognizing the level of cruelty of keeping an animal, even a lobster, alive just to place them into boiling water while they are still alive can help to stop this dangerous process.

Use one of the humane options we listed above to enjoy this seafood option without torturing them in the process.

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