Monster lobster dies before release

By David Munson
Village Soup, February 21, 2004

FRIENDSHIP LONG ISLAND (Feb 21, 2004): A last-ditch chance at freedom ended on a sad note Friday morning when a 14-pound lobster, affectionately dubbed Hercules, died on Friendship Long Island--just a few days after arriving from Washington state.

Hercules has been the subject of considerable media attention in recent days. Estimated to be 40 or 50 years old, the lobster was purchased at a supermarket in Port Angeles, Wash. by eighth-grade teacher Melissa Withrow, whose class had hoped to have the huge crustacean released in its native waters. The Stevens Middle School students worked with the Lobster Conservancy to get the lobster shipped to Maine via Federal Express.

While Hercules did arrive with a minor injury, the actual cause of death is uncertain.

Everyone involved mourned the loss of the animal, but Lobster Conservancy scientist Diane Cowan said the attempted release was meaningful nonetheless. In addition to providing evidence regarding the success rate of such release projects, Hercules' story has drawn much-needed attention to the plight of large lobsters in the Gulf of Maine.

"Not only did Hercules help to make people aware that lobsters can get quite big, he also drew attention to the need for laws to protect them," Cowan said. "Big lobsters contribute a lot to the reproductive success of lobster populations, producing more eggs and more sperm and contributing to the genetic diversity of populations by traveling great distances to breed. Lobsters don't just get old and stop producing--they continue to breed throughout their lives. This 14-pound male was in his reproductive prime."

Cowan hopes that the efforts of the students and the Lobster Conservancy will draw attention to a bill currently being considered by the Maine Legislature that would prevent Canadian harvesters and others from shipping oversized lobsters across the state. Recognizing the importance of large lobsters to the breeding population, Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts currently have laws that require fishermen to return large lobsters to the sea. Canadians and offshore fishermen have no such laws.

"People have so much emotional investment in this kind of thing, and we wanted to know if it would work. It's not our goal to stop lobsters from being eaten, but we do think that large lobsters need to be protected," said Lobster Conservancy Executive Director Sara Ellis. "We won’t be doing this type of release in the future."

"I've seen lobsters shipped across the country to be released and always wondered if they were really successful or if they just die a few hours or a few days later," Cowan added. "If people really want to protect lobsters of that size, they should get their state to pass laws that prohibit the sale of big lobsters."

Based in Rockland, Staff Reporter David Munson can be reached at 207-594-5351 or by e-mail at