Lobster Cannibalism? Climate Change Turning Sea Creatures Into Hannibal Lecters

Lobster cannibalism is on the rise as climate change continues to alter the environment in which lobsters live.

Marine biology graduate student Noah Oppenheim was conducting tests for the University of Maine when he discovered the cannibalism. Oppenheim placed a single lobster in a waterproof rig and then released it alongside an infrared camera. Oppenheim expected to see the lobster being attacked by herring, cod, and other “groundfish,” but instead it was other lobsters who came for dinner.

As waters become warmer, lobsters produce more offspring and they grow larger. The Gulf of Maine over the last 10 years has become the warmest it has been on record. The lobster population has also been helped along by fisherman who overfish for other lobster predators in the area. That combination of variables has led to a lobster record that hasn’t been witnessed going all the way back to 1880.

According to Oppenheim, the lobster cannibalism occurs when there are a lot of lobsters and not enough natural food for them to share.

Lobster attacks on an inner-species level are nothing new; lobsters in captivity are forced to share tanks while wearing rubber bands on their claws to avoid attacks. However, this is the first time lobster cannibalism has been witnessed in the wild.

Viewing the lobsters from Hurricane Island, Oppenheim says young lobsters are usually the first to be cannibalized. Young lobsters are 90 percent more likely to be eaten by another lobster than any other predator.

The increase in the lobster population has also caused problems for lobster fisherman who are experiencing extremely low market prices. Lobster prices, when inflation is included, are at their lowest price since the Great Depression. Lobster fisherman are faced with higher labor costs, higher fuel costs, and now lower market prices.

Maine officials could push for higher catch numbers over the short-term in order to level out the lobster population. Such a move could push back against other types of fishing until natural predators of the lobster return.

Do you think lobster cannibalism sounds like something out of an old black and white b-roll horror film?