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Lobsters Left To Die In Restaurant Tanks Spur Animal Cruelty Complaints

The RSPCA is outraged after lobsters were left in the display tanks of a closed restaurant, but it has sparked a discussion about how crustaceans are covered by animal cruelty laws.

Crustaceans aren't even considered animals under the Animal Care and Protection Act.

According to Gold Coast local councillor, Hermann Vorster, the lobsters left in the abandoned building -- which formerly housed an eatery -- are visible from the street and have not been moved since the restaurant closed its doors.

The councillor said his office had received a number of complaints regarding the animals' wellbeing, with concerned citizens saying one had died and the condition of the water was not healthy for them.

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Vorster told the Gold Coast Bulletin that even though the animals were intended for consumption, he thought leaving them to starve to death was cruel.

"It is very macabre putting the animals on display just watching them waste away," he said.

RSPCA Queensland has become involved in the case and reported that the restaurant owner, despite having no legal obligation to do anything about the animals, has agreed to move the lobsters.

Lobsters are not currently protected under the Animal Care and Protection Act of 2001.

The act defines an "animal" as a live vertebrates, including mammals, amphibians, fish, reptiles, or birds.

Principal scientist from RSPCA Queensland, Dr Mandy Paterson, told 10 daily that invertebrates such as cephalopods (octopuses and squids) and malacostracans (crustaceans such as lobsters and crabs) were only included in the original act as creatures that could be defined as animals with further regulations.

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This legislation changes from state to state. Currently, provisions for cephalopods have only been included in the ACT, Queensland and Victorian law.

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In the ACT and Queensland, there are legal obligations for retailers to provide adequate food, water, and shelter to octopuses and squid. Under Victorian law, they only have protections in scientific experiments.

As for the lobsters and crabs -- only ACT, NSW and Victorian law include obligations to provide these creatures with food, water and shelter.

One of the difficulties of giving crustaceans and octopus protection under this federal legislation is proving that they experience pain. In terms of the scientific literature, the jury is still out on whether or not lobsters feel pain like vertebrates do.

It is surprisingly difficult to establish this in experiments because "you have to prove that they withdraw from aversive stimuli and then you have to prove that they're actually experiencing pain," Paterson said.

One 2013 study looked at the behaviour of crustaceans by presenting hermit crabs with options for shells: one which they had experienced electric shocks in, and another that they didn't.

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The crabs quickly moved into new shells where they hadn't experienced electric shocks when they were offered to them, suggesting a long-term change based on pain experience.

However, whether or not lobsters feel pain like vertebrates do is still disputed. Robert Steneck, a professor of marine sciences from the University of Maine told the Guardian that he is "not convinced they feel pain" and there is "no compelling case" that he's seen that suggests they do.

Despite the confusion, the RSPCA opposes treatment of lobsters such as boiling them alive during cooking, taping their claws and keeping them in overcrowded tanks.

All of these actions are entirely legal in Australia, including the controversial method of boiling them alive, which is banned in both Switzerland and New Zealand.

"The RSPCA believe they can feel pain...we feel at least that they're suffering when they're being treated like this," Paterson said.