Science Questions

Do oysters feel pain?

Sun, 19th Apr 2009

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Rodney asked:

Do oysters feel pain?


Helen - Itís a great question and something that stirs up seafood lovers a lot.  Youíve got your oyster there, youíre shucking it away, squeeze of lemon juice and they say you should see it twitching if you put lemon juice on it which goes to show they can sense chemicals and they can sense things going on.

Do they feel pain? Great question.

I think the answer has to be probably not, we donít really know.  They have a nervous system, they can respond.  They have no brain as such; they have two ganglia or masses of nerves around their body but not a central brain like ours.  I donít think anyone can possibly claim that oysters are conscious, that they have awareness like higher mammals (not just ourselves but other creatures like dolphins and things).  I certainly think there shouldnít be a big problem with oysters.

Thereís still debates going on about far more advanced creatures like fish.  Is it cruel to go fishing for fun?  Do they feel pain?  Thatís the sort of thing where the debate goes on.  Scientists have found a lot of very sensitive receptors in the face of fish that we thing probably mean they can detect damage to their skin.  Whether thatís actually translated into pain is the big question we havenít go to the bottom of yet.  Is it pain as we feel pain because they go Ďouch.í Or is it, ĎI know thatís going on: thatís something thatís not good and I need to do something about it,í But not necessarily, ĎThat really hurts.í

There was one study that does sound rather cruel but we do need to understand these things so they did it.  They took freshwater trout (this is scientists from the University of Edinburgh) and they actually injected bee venom into their lips to see what that did.  What they found was that these fish, compared to ones that just had water injected into their lips, they rubbed their lips on the bottom of the tank and on the gravel.  They didnít go back to feed as quickly as the ones that just had water and they rocked.  In zoos sometimes or in older zoos when they werenít designed to keep animals to keep them interested and stimulated they could develop a rocking motion to show that theyíre not enjoying themselves.  A similar thing is happening with these fish.  Something is going on and I think they can sense pain.  Itís still a question we havenít answered.


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RodneyA asked the Naked Scientists: G'day Chris, I listen to the naked scientist podcast and really enjoy it. You may have been asked this question before. Do oysters feel pain? Regards, Rodney What do you think? RodneyA, Wed, 4th Mar 2009
Bored chemist, Wed, 4th Mar 2009

What a ridiculous response! They feel pain. Then, to go on and talk about how it's debatable whether fish feel pain..... absolutely wrong! Fish have a nervous system and of course they feel pain. Fish have feelings and preferences just like people and other animals. Science has shown they can remember a lesson they learned 4 months ago. They also have strong family and social bonds. Smart Vegan, Sun, 20th Dec 2009

yes the vegan knows all go lick a tree biased, Tue, 29th Dec 2009

What's the matter? Does the truth hurt? Awww poor baby. Fish have feelings. Christina , Sat, 13th Mar 2010

Smart vegans do not know how to read the question. It was... do oysters feel pain...if they have no brain this is a logical question. girl who reads the question, Tue, 30th Mar 2010

I am a vegan. I do occasionally eat oysters and mussels as I think that since they do not have a face it is not so bad. I do feel a bit guilty for it though, cause as some said... what do we know? We do not know if they have some system that makes them suffer and agonise. I think societies have to evolve, and will do, toward a more compassionate and caring ways towards animals. They should be treated as our own babies Yvonne, Fri, 1st Jul 2011

Yvonne; you're not a vegan. You might mostly eat vegan, but by definition, if you eat mussels and oysters, blah blah blah, you're not one. Deal with it. ahhhh, Mon, 7th May 2012

Yvonne, now i read you more closely; what you are is a troll of course aaahhhh, Mon, 7th May 2012

If you eat oysters, you are not a vegan, full stop. It doesn't matter whether oysters feel pain or not. Vegans are not supposed to eat any animal products, period. No, oysters probably don't feel pain, but you are still eating an animal. You would be fulfilling your wish to not cause animal suffering, but still, you are not a vegan if you eat oysters. It's like someone claiming she is a virgin because her hymen wasn't broken, but she had oral/anal sex. Random User, Thu, 22nd Nov 2012

Stop cruelty for science. No more cruel and unethical science., Sun, 11th Sep 2016

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