Trip too heavy for Hercules

By Kelly Michaud
Courier Gazette, February 21, 2004

FRIENDSHIP LONG ISLAND - Despite a cross-country effort to allow a 14-pound lobster to live out his final days swimming free in Maine waters, the aging crustacean was found dead in his crate Friday morning.

The 30-year-old lobster, which was nicknamed Hercules, returned to New England waters Wednesday after being saved from a Port Angeles, Wash., grocery store. Hercules was being kept in a crate underwater at the Lobster Conservancy in Friendship Long Island for rehabilitation.

"I think this is the fourth or fifth time someone has sent us a large lobster in hopes that it would be freed and live out its days or years in protected Maine state waters," said senior scientist Diane Cowan. "Only one of the lobsters sent to us over the years survived the trauma of round-trip air travel and whatever handling was involved during its journey and experience in supermarkets."

Cowan said she recommends that the conservancy stop accepting large lobsters.

The lobster's cross-country expedition began around Valentine's Day, when he first arrived at Albertsons Food & Drug in Port Angeles. Store manager Darrel Chard said the lobster, which had a price tag of $200, drew quite a bit of attention.

"We were kinda amazed when he came in," Chard said in a phone interview Thursday. "We must have pulled the lobster out of the tank 20 times a day to show people - it was unbelievable."

Eighth-grade teacher Melissa Withrow saw the lobster and decided a holding tank was not where he belonged.

"The whole thing just seemed wrong," Withrow said in a phone interview Thursday. "It seemed wrong for him to be in this tank and it seemed imperative to get him home."

Withrow enlisted the help of her students at Stevens Middle School to find a way to return the lobster to Maine.

"They were excited from the get-go and were on board 100 percent," Withrow said. "It never entered their minds that this wasn't going to happen."

The teacher and students started making calls. Albertsons gave the OK immediately to donate the lobster to the students, Withrow said.

"After you name the lobster it's kinda hard to send him to a stew pot somewhere," Chard said.

The students then contacted Federal Express to ask about a discounted rate to ship the lobster cross-country and called the Lobster Conservancy, which agreed to accept the lobster.

"It was a matter of lining up logistics after that," Withrow said.

On Tuesday afternoon Withrow received word from Fed Ex that the company would ship the lobster for free.

At 3 p.m. Wednesday, Hercules arrived at the Lobster Conservancy, Cowan said.

According to Cowan, Hercules was not caught in Maine waters because of Maine's state law. The law does not allow the taking of lobsters that are above maximum size, which is five inches carapace length, or about 5 pounds.

Most likely Hercules came from Canadian waters or Massachusetts waters, Cowan said.

It is important that large males like Hercules remain in the ocean for reproductive reasons, Cowan said. Lobsters live a long time and remain reproductively active a long time, she said, adding the bigger they are, the more they reproduce.

"A lobster that is about 14 pounds is in the prime of its reproductive life," she said. "You need large male lobsters to mate with large females."

The conservancy was holding onto Hercules until they felt he could be released. Cowan said if Hercules had lived a week or two, then they think he would have survived on his own.

Cowan said it is not the conservancy's job to save lobsters from being eaten, however they have agreed to accept lobsters like Hercules to see if they could survive.

"Others have released lobsters back into the wild immediately without any indication or follow up on whether they survive," Cowan said. "I thought it might be interesting to know if the rescue attempts could actually succeed or whether they were just 'feel good' acts that did the lobster no favor at all."

Kelly Michaud can be reached at