Secret Life of Lobsters: How Fishermen and Scientists Are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean [NOOK Book]


In this intimate portrait of an island lobstering community and aneccentric band of renegade biologists, journalist Trevor Corson escorts the reader onto the slippery decks of fishing boats, through danger-filled scuba dives, and deep into the churning currents of the Gulf of Maine to learn about the secret undersea lives of lobsters.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, ...

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Secret Life of Lobsters: How Fishermen and Scientists Are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean

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In this intimate portrait of an island lobstering community and aneccentric band of renegade biologists, journalist Trevor Corson escorts the reader onto the slippery decks of fishing boats, through danger-filled scuba dives, and deep into the churning currents of the Gulf of Maine to learn about the secret undersea lives of lobsters.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Until now, the only thought our Discover readers had given to this species was how to get them to the pot of boiling water while avoiding their snapping pincers and flapping tails. With his first book, Trevor Corson has changed all that. For Corson has composed an elegant and intriguing work comprising three essential ingredients: natural history, biological research, and a loving portrait of a community.

Corson, who spent two years working aboard a commercial lobster boat, also trolls alongside scientists who study the valuable crustaceans, offering intimate depictions of their work. And he introduces readers to generations of lobstermen and their families on Little Cranberry Island, a tiny fishing community off the coast of Maine. The end result of his assiduous detective work is this remarkable account of the delicate balance between these players and their role in ensuring the responsible stewardship of the lobster population as well as the survival of a storied industry. Along the way, Corson reveals lobsters as tremendously complex and interesting creatures: gentle, and at times, amorous lovers, as well as pugnacious and lethal bullies who regularly compete for dominance beneath the ocean's surface. Corson's passion for creatures we most often see accompanied by drawn butter is evident on every page of this wonderfully irresistible book. Bib not included. (Fall 2004 Selection)

Publishers Weekly
In the 1980s, the lobster population in the waters off the coast of Maine was declining, threatening disaster for the state's lobster fishing industry. Government scientists attributed the drop-off to overfishing and recommended raising the minimum legal size of lobsters that could be harvested. Lobstermen disagreed, contending that their longstanding practice of returning oversized lobsters to the sea as brood stock would take care of the problem. In this intriguing and entertaining book, Corson, a journalist who has reported on such diverse subjects as organ transplants and Chinese sweatshops, brings together the often conflicting worlds of commercial lobstermen and marine scientists, showing how the two sides joined forces and tried for 15 years to solve the mystery of why the lobsters were disappearing. He brings the story to life by concentrating on the lobstermen and their families who live in one Maine fishing community, Little Cranberry Island, and alternating narratives of their lives with accounts of the research of scientists who, obsessed with the curious life of lobsters, conduct experiments that are often as strange and complex as the lobsters themselves. Corson provides more information about the lobster's unusual anatomy, eating habits and sex life than most readers will probably want to know, but he makes it all fascinating, especially when he juxtaposes observations of human behavior and descriptions of the social life of lobsters. However, by the end of the book, the answer to the puzzle remains elusive. Agent, Stuart Krichevsky. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A close-up look at the Maine lobster fishery and at the feisty crustaceans on which it's based. Boston-based journalist Corson focuses on a small community of lobstermen (and, of late, women) on Little Cranberry Island, in the Gulf of Maine. He follows them out to the hunting grounds on their boats, describes their traps and the onboard routine of baiting, setting, and emptying the huge wire cages. Working the same grounds as their grandfathers, the lobstermen face daily hostile elements and back-breaking work. Their prey, familiar on dinner plates around the world, was until recently one of the least understood creatures in the ocean. Scientists had determined that lobsters' sense of smell was highly developed, and assumed that female lobsters used their pheromones to lure the males of the species to mate with them. Only when a mixed group of captive lobsters was assembled in artificial habitats similar to those in the wild did the scientists discover that the males stayed at home and the females came to woo them. One female lobster after another would take up housekeeping with the dominant male, stay until she was impregnated, then make place for one of her sisters. Each female could carry hundreds of thousands of eggs on her tail. Lobster fishermen, who followed the practice of returning pregnant females to the water, assumed that the population was in little danger of overfishing; government scientists assumed the worst, and pushed for tighter restrictions on the size of lobsters that could be kept. Corson follows the fishermen and the maverick scientists who took their side in the dispute, along the way providing as complete a course in the lives of both lobsters and lobstermen asanyone could wish. Charmingly written, full of fascinating detail: a delight. Agent: Stuart Krichevsky/Stuart Krichevsky Agency
Time Out New York
“Ultimately, this investigation into society, science and sustainability leaves a complex, satisfying taste in your mouth”
Natural History magazine
“I can highly recommend this book as one of the best things you can enjoy without melted butter.”
Natural History Magazine
"I can highly recommend this book as one of the best things you can enjoy without melted butter."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061873973
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/13/2009
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 200,881
  • File size: 388 KB

Meet the Author

The author of The Secret Life of Lobsters, Trevor Corson has studied philosophy in China, resided in Buddhist temples in Japan, and worked on commercial fishing boats off the Maine coast. He has written for the Atlantic Monthly and the New York Times and is the only "sushi concierge" in the United States. He lives in New York City.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: Setting Out, 2001 1
Part 1 Jrapping
1 A Haul of Heritage 21
2 Honey Holes 31
Part 2 Mating
3 Scent of a Woman 43
4 The Man Show 53
5 Sex, Size, and Videotape 66
Part 3 Fighting
6 Eviction Notice 87
7 Battle Lines 104
8 The War of the Eggs 117
9 Claw Lock 128
Part 4 Surviving
10 The Superlobsters 141
11 Attack of the Killer Fish 155
12 Kindergarten Cops 172
Part 5 Sensing
13 See No Evil 189
14 Against the Wind 200
Part 6 Brooding
15 Gathering the Flock 211
16 Victory Dance 224
17 Fickle Seas 237
Epilogue: Hauling In, 2001 259
Appendix How to Cook a Lobster 273
Author's Note 279
Further Reading 283
Acknowledgments 285
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First Chapter

The Secret Life of Lobsters
How Fishermen and Scientists Are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean

Chapter One

A Haul of Heritage

The oceans of the earth abound with lobsters. Lobsters with claws like hair combs sift mud in offshore trenches. Clawless lobsters with antennae like spikes migrate in clans in the Caribbean and the South Pacific. Flattened lobsters with heads like shovels scurry and burrow in the Mediterranean and the Galapagos. The eccentric diversity of the world's lobsters has earned them some of the most whimsical names in the animal kingdom. There is a hunchback locust lobster and a regal slipper lobster. There are marbled mitten lobsters, velvet fan lobsters, and even a musical furry lobster. The unicorn and buffalo blunt-horn lobsters inspire admiration; the African spear lobster, the Arabian whip lobster, and the rough Spanish lobster demand respect.

Nowhere in the world, however, is the seafloor as densely populated with lobsters as in the Gulf of Maine. Though a less sophisticated creature than some of its clawless counterparts, the American lobster, scientific name Homarus americanus, is astonishingly abundant.

But at five o'clock on a September morning in 1973, the young Bruce Fernald didn't know that, and he wasn't interested.

"Hey, Bruce." The door opened. "Come on, son, get up. We're going fishing."

Bruce groaned, rolled over, and cracked open an eye. Still dark. Jesus. Almost four years in the navy, riding nights away in the bunk of a destroyer, rounding the Cape of Good Hope in forty-foot seas, and what happens the first time he tries to sleep in his own bed back home? His father wakes him up before dawn to get in a boat.

Sure, Bruce thought as he yanked on his socks, when I was fourteen I hauled traps by hand from a skiff, like every other kid on Little Cranberry Island. Does that automatically make me a lobsterman? The world was big and in the navy Bruce had sailed all the way around it. He wasn't certain he wanted to condemn himself to the hard life his forefathers had endured, hauling up what the old-timers called "poverty crates" full of "bugs."

But Bruce's first day of lobstering with his father turned out to be lucrative enough to warrant a second day, and after that a third. As autumn settled over the island the days aboard his father's boat became weeks. At the helm was Warren, his dad, and on the stern was the name of his other parent -- Mother Ann. Bruce stuffed bait bags with chopped herring. He plugged the lobsters' thumbs with wooden pegs to immobilize their claws so they wouldn't rip each other apart in the barrel. He coiled rope. He hefted the heavy wooden traps. And he observed his father at work.

Some of Warren's white-and-yellow buoys followed the shoreline like a string of popcorn. Warren knew just how close he could get to the rocks without endangering the boat, and he showed Bruce how to line up landmarks and steer clear.

Some of Warren's buoys bobbed in ninety feet of water, running in a line east to west half a mile from the island. Unwritten rules along most of the Maine coast governed just how far a fisherman could go before he was setting traps in someone else's territory. Bruce watched where his father went and memorized the landmarks that would keep him close to home.

Come November, Warren and Bruce were hauling traps in water twenty fathoms deep -- 120 feet -- a mile south of the island in open sea. It was cold, especially when the breeze picked up and blew spray in Bruce's face.

"Okay, son, where are we now?" Warren asked, bent over a tangle in the rope.

Bruce, his hands numb, glanced up to see which of the mountains of Mount Desert Island loomed over the lighthouse on Baker Island, half a mile southeast of Little Cranberry. Depending on how far to the east or west the Mother Ann was positioned, the lighthouse would line up with a different hill.

"Cadillac," Bruce answered.

Cadillac Mountain, like the automobile of the same name, honored the first European settler in these parts. In 1688 small-town French lawyer swindled a land grant to Mount Desert Island from the Canadian governor. He invented the aristocratic title "sieur de Cadillac" for himself and lorded over the uninhabited island with his new bride for a summer. Bored, he soon retreated inland to found a trading post called Detroit. The Cadillac car still bears his fake coat of arms on its hood. The lobstermen of Little Cranberry had put Cadillac's legacy to their own use. Like the other hills of Mount Desert, his mountain rising from the sea was a map to the treasures under the waves.

In a more literal sense too, Warren and Bruce were fishing on Cadillac Mountain -- or at least on pieces of it -- and that was what made these waters hospitable for lobsters. Starting a few million years ago, sheets of ice had rolled down from the Arctic for eighty thousand years at a stretch, interrupted by brief warm spells of ten thousand or twenty thousand years. During the most recent ice age the glaciers had scraped up stone from all over Maine and carried it south, carving away the pink granite of Mount Desert Island on the way. The glaciers had pressed on for another three hundred miles before grinding to a halt, encrusting the Gulf of Maine and the continental shelf in ice as far south as Long Island.

When the glaciers melted fourteen thousand years ago they unveiled the sensuously sculpted hills and valleys that now constitute Acadia National Park. The glaciers also left behind vast fields of debris -- boulders, cobble, pebbles, and gravel. Glacial runoff sorted the finer sediments into beds of sand or muddy silt between ledges of hard rock ...

The Secret Life of Lobsters
How Fishermen and Scientists Are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean
. Copyright © by Trevor Corson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide


Once considered "poverty food" by colonial settlers, American lobsters are a culinary treat enjoyed by millions the world over. But lobsters are much more than just a main course -- and in The Secret Life of Lobsters, journalist Trevor Corson dives deep into their intriguing story and reveals the fascinating habits and behaviors of these remarkable creatures.

The Secret Life of Lobsters also takes us on a sea-sprayed voyage with fishermen and scientists as they join forces to preserve the future of these clawed predators, whose undersea life has remained murky as the ocean depths. Through an engrossing combination of science, history, and local folklore, Corson sheds light on the centuries-old tradition of Maine lobster fishing while showcasing the exhaustive (and sometimes quirky) scientific experiments mounted to research Homarus americanus -- and the result is a narrative that is as interesting, engaging, and surprising as the lobsters themselves.

Named a best science book of 2004 by USA Today and Discover and a best book of the year by Time Out New York, The Secret Life of Lobsters is an entertaining and rollicking odyssey -- and one that will forever change how you look at the world's favorite crustacean.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Before reading this book, did you know much about lobsters and their behaviors? What are some of the more surprising aspects of lobster life that you've learned?

  2. In discussing the economic perils of pursuing lobstering as a living, Bruce Fernald mentions an old saying referring to lobster traps as "'poverty crates' full of 'bugs'." (p. 22) Given the limited -- and somewhat unreliable -- financial reward that lobstering has offered in the past, why do you think so many children followed their parents into this line of work?

  3. "It is said that lobstermen are the cowboys of the American East." (p. 4) Cowboys -- and lobstermen -- have come to embody a sense of rugged individualism and independence, as a result of their exploration of unknown frontiers. What are some examples of similar American livelihoods?

  4. The exhaustive work of the scientists and biologists depicted in this book can be described almost as a calling. Discuss the differences between a profession and a vocation.

  5. Different views are expressed about how to best maintain the lobster population. Before you began to read this book, which group would you have been more inclined to believe -- scientists, government officials, or lobstermen? Why? After having read the book, do you feel the same way?

  6. In Chapter 16, Jack Merrill prepares for his first underwater dive. Is it surprising that he's never seen the ocean floor in his 25 years of lobstering? Consider, too, the complaints by lobstermen that scientists rarely join them on lobster boats to observe their work; is that surprising as well? Why or why not?

  7. In the acknowledgments, the author refers to his lifelong "lobster obsession." What similar obsessions might you share? What do your obsessions, and the degree to which you have such obsessions, reveal about you?

  8. The author describes life on the remote island of Little Cranberry Island in vivid detail. Would you be able to live in such a place? What are the benefits and drawbacks of living in an isolated location?

  9. The battle between government scientists and the Maine Lobstermen's Association to protect the lobster population is described throughout the book. At one point, Jack Merrill reads a section of an independent report that supported his argument for not changing the minimum-size law; the government, however, had continued to promote the new law despite the independent report. Bob Steneck had trouble gaining access to government evidence that reinforced his theories. Using science to promote a particular policy or point of view -- how else is this demonstrated in society today?

  10. Government regulators produce reports and research to support raising the minimum-catch size, while lobstermen record data via relatively crude methods (v-notching, Katy Fernald's coffee cans). Hard scientific research versus anecdotal evidence collected over multiple generations -- which are you more inclined to believe? Why?

  11. Many people might be squeamish about consuming lobsters after reading this book. But most of the people profiled here heartily enjoy eating lobsters ("Knowing all about lobsters makes them a more interesting meal," page 275). Can appreciation and respect for an animal be reconciled with the desire to eat it? Why or why not?

About the Author

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 21, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Female lobsters get PMS!

    Yes, PMS – post-molt syndrome... The Secret Life of Lobsters is an exceptionally well written interwoven story. Corson does an excellent job of presenting the biology of lobsters as the scientists and lobstermen seek out these crustaceans and the struggle between the agents of public policy and those with hands in the sea. The book highlights population dynamics and ecology without the burden of technical vocabulary. While the book is fun to read, it also sheds important light on scientific process, public policy, and local ways of life. Highly recommended.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    Lobsters and people who study them

    Trevor Corson's work features an excellent blend of American lobster biology, history, and politics as well as the story of scientist and lobstermen whose lives revolve around this crustcean. This is one of the few stories that paints fisherman/hunter or in this case lobstermen in a good light.The story shows how lobstermen had become the preservers of the American lobster even before the political machine was envolved. This is not just a story about nature but a human interest story. You will not be able to put it down. A must read. You will definately have a new found appreciation for that lobster on your plate.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 5, 2012


    Every now and then I like to read what I would call an "eclectic" book, that fits into a niche in my reading. This fit the bill. I learned something about lobsters, about history, some science, and about the people who make sure that the lobster fishery of Maine remains sustainable in the long term. A great read.

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  • Posted November 4, 2011

    Fun and interesting read that will have you craving more lobster.

    This book is full of interesting facts along with a great story about lobsters and those who love them. You will still be able to enjoy eating your lobster before, during and after reading this book. You might even learn to give thanks to the lobster that gave up his/her life for your meal.

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  • Posted August 20, 2009

    Secret Life of Lobsters

    Excellent book. I am from Maine and I fished on the Maine coast. All the years I lived in Maine and remembered how the Feds kept reporting overfishing but I had lobsterman friends and didn't believe the Feds because the lobsterman had their own way to populate the fisheries by throwing back the egg laden females. I find it extremely interesting that once satellite technology was used they came up with different conclusions. Also once the trawlers came closer to the coast fishing for cod the lobster population exploded. I liked it so well that I purchased another three books, two for brothers in Maine and a brother in law in Alaska.

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  • Posted July 4, 2009

    A better read than I expected

    A great mix of history, biology, and sociology. Sometimes the jumps from one view to another were hard to follow but easy enough once you are into it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2008

    Facinating Book!

    I really loved reading this book, I couldn't put it down. I really liked how Corson blended the history, politics and science of lobsters together, it made the book very interesting.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2005


    I never thought I would find lobsters fascinating, but this book changed that!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2005

    Great Read!

    The book was reccommended to me by a friend, who's family are some of the main characters in the book. I wasn't able to put the book down. Trevor Corson does an outstanding job of mixing the science of lobsters with the stories of the people whos lives revolve around lobsters! The book is very entertaining and full of interesting facts!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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