Trevor Corson

"The Secret Life of Lobsters: How Fishermen and Scientists are Unraveling the Mysteries of our Favorite Crustacean"

(reviewed by Mary Whipple JUL 3, 2004)

"For the study of lobster ecology in the Gulf of Maine in the years to come, the primary challenge would be to determine the trajectories of actual larvae, from the locations where they hatched through the currents of the sea to the locations where they settled to the bottom—and to so do while monitoring the abundance of lobsters at various stages in the animal's life cycle…By monitoring [these variables] simultaneously, ecologists might one day be able to identify the causes--and predict the effects--of fluctuations in lobster abundance as they occurred."

For anyone with an interest in Maine lobsters which goes beyond the plastic bibs and melted butter, this is the "Everything You Always Wanted to Know…" resource. After spending two years aboard commercial lobster boats, meeting scientists dedicated to conserving the lobster as a natural resource, and studying the research about the lobster's habitat, breeding habits, and possible endangerment, author Trevor Corson has produced a highly readable, balanced account of what is happening in the industry and the remarkable co-operation which has evolved between lobstermen and scientists.

Little Cranberry Island, just south of Mt. Desert Island and Acadia National Park, about halfway between Portland and the Canadian border, is a lobstering community with a rich natural environment just off its coast, its lobstermen as concerned about preserving their livelihoods in the future as are scientists (many working for the government) about protecting the coast from "over-fishing." Until recently, however, the two groups had not pooled their knowledge, and scientists had not done on-site studies of how and where the lobsters live and breed and what constitutes the true threats to their continued existence. No one on either side really knew whether cyclical declines in the number of pounds caught were natural or induced by man.

Concentrating on the roles of particular people on the island and particular scientists engaged in unusual research, humanizing all of them and describing their day-to-day lives, Corson delves into seemingly arcane subjects, such as mating rituals, molting and its effects, battles for territory (both by lobsters and fishermen), ocean currents that carry larvae, natural "lobster nurseries," and the role of the extremely large lobsters which sometimes live in very deep water. The book is entertaining, and in a few cases humorous (a discussion of lobster courtship juxtaposed against the courtship of a lobsterman), but it is uncompromising in its attention to the research and what has been discovered about the lobster's life cycle.

Legislation regulating the minimum permissible size of a lobster is evaluated in terms of the lobster's life cycle, with the good intentions regarding minimum size producing possibly bad results. He stesses the need for some sort of reliable census of the habitat. The overlapping interests of the lobstermen, geologists, marine ecologists, and biologists are clear. Corson has no axes to grind, and his presentation is filled with insights into how and why scientists do what they do, and how and why lobstermen continue to do what they do. Fascinating new information about "our favorite crustacean" has resulted from research by all sides in the past five years, and Corson's highly readable account makes it accessible to scientists and layman alike.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 35 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Secret Life of Lobsters at HarperCollins.com



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About the Author:

Trevor CorsonTrevor Corson worked aboard commercial lobster boats for two years and has written on subjects as diverse as organ transplants, Japanese Buddhism, and Chinese politics. His writing has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Boston Globe. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

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