by Gary Samson
All Lobsters All the Time
You'll know that cable TV has plunged to new depths when you're invited to sign up for the 24-hour lobster channel. That channel isn't really on the air, but it could be, thanks to the work of zoology professor Winsor Watson and undergraduates in an ocean projects course.
Watson wanted to study lobster behavior in the wild, preferably without having to sit on the bottom of the ocean for long periods of time. The students came to his aid by designing a remote underwater video system that can broadcast live from lobster town whenever Watson wants to tune in. A sensitive underwater camera sends a signal to a surface buoy rigged with a transmitter, which relays the signal to a receiver in Watson's lab.
By becoming a regular viewer of lobster TV, Watson learned that the primary predators of lobsters (aside from lobstermen) are skates--flat, kite-shaped fish related to sharks and rays. Two of the seven species found off the New Hampshire coast apparently have a taste for small lobsters. "These findings underscore why lobsters would seek complex habitats such as eel grass beds and rocky areas, which not only provide more cover, but are less frequented by skates," Watson says.
Watson has also used the video camera to observe how lobsters behave around traps. He reports that nine out of 10 lobsters that encounter a trap don't go in, and nine out of 10 of those that do go in turn around and walk out again. "Lobster TV makes it clear that the annual lobster catch is a poor way to measure the actual population of lobsters," he says. "The number of lobsters that are hauled up are very small in proportion to the population."
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