Lobster Alert

"Tissue biopsy and observations of a lobster with several holes in the carapace, claws and connective tissue."


William J. Winkler, Biologist

Ocean View, Delaware

July 27, 2001


     On July 18, 2001 I received a call from a concerned woman, Chris, who had purchased a few lobsters, one of which was noticeably infested with something that had bored or eaten holes through its' shell and connective tissue at the joint area of the claws.


     Chris had called Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker in Pocomoke, Maryland to ask his advice.  Dr. Shoemaker referred Chris to me since I was using Ritchie's microscope for phytoplankton study.  Chris's daughter brought the lobster to Ocean View where I video taped the outside showing the holes and festering in the shell and connective tissue in the joints. 


    I then proceeded to take a connective tissue sample where the lobster was trying to reform its' shell.  It appeared that whatever had infected the tissue was still there, since the repair secretion was ongoing and could not keep up with the infection.


     The tissue sample was also video taped and results yielded an infestation of nematodes.  Nematodes were imbedded throughout the tissue, even at deeper levels.  No other foreign organisms were observed.  40X and 100X magnification was used. The nematodes were boring into the flesh, probably hampering the shells' repair job.  I deduced that the nematodes were most likely a secondary infestation to the primary cause of the holes in the shell and connective tissue.


     I contacted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in Washington D.C., and asked for referral to a marine pathologist or related expert who knows about crustacean diseases.  The expert was out of the country and an email was forwarded to her for consultation as of July 25th.


     Today,  July 26th,  CNN reported a shell-eating bacteria (chitinolytic bacteria) was affecting lobster in the New England area.  My first thought was, yea and here too!  The "Daily Times" from  Salisbury, Maryland reported the same story as CNN , yet added that the lobster in Maryland, are not affected.  I called the city editor, Joe Weber, and left a message with my biopsy results and said that I think their reporting was in error.  I have not received a call back from Mr. Weber.


     I called Chris to tell her about the shell-eating bacteria and that it is possible that this could be the same problem here in the Mid-Atlantic.  Chris said she would contact the lobsterman that caught the lobster in question and have them call me.


    Another friend spoke with another lobsterman last week and he said they were catching a lot of "deformed" lobster that they were throwing back.


     Chris's husband called me to offer some information.  He had eaten two other lobster that were purchased at the same time as the infected one.  He said he had diarrhea for two days and wasn't feeling quite right.  He also said that he could eat "anything" and never gets sick like this.   He knew something was wrong.  I strongly suggested he see Dr. Shoemaker asap to take the visual contrast test to determine if he had ingested any biotoxins which may have come from the bacteria.


   Many questions remain to be answered. The first and foremost is, that if you have eaten a lobster recently and developed diarrhea to please contact Dr. Shoemaker and arrange to take the visual contrast test to determine if you have ingested any biotoxins. 

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