It is that time of year again when the underwater hunters come out of the woodwork beating their chest and weaving great stories and yarns about fantastic exploits of lobster hunting. While you may not be the greatest lobster hunter, you can certainly impress your buddies with some obscure facts about the wily crustaceans. Want to impress your friends with a few facts about lobster are not generally known? Read on!
California spiny lobster (Panulirus interruptus) is only a distant cousin to the more popular and better-known American lobster (Homarus americanus). The American lobster that populates the east coast New England waters is known for its large claws. While they are both crustaceans from the order Decopoda (meaning ten-legged), California spiny lobster is not in the same family as the American lobster.
California spiny lobsters do have claws — at least the females do. Don’t worry; they are of no hazard to the diver. The tiny claws on the back legs are used for tending the eggs stowed on the underside of the tails during the spring.
LOBSTERS BITE AND OTHER DEFENSES
While the California spiny lobsters lack the large claws, they can inflict a powerful and painful bite with the large jaws. This is especially true of large lobster. Lobsters use powerful jaws in their feeding, able to break apart clams and other invertebrates with ease. Keep you hands clear.
Additional defenses of these Pacific “bugs” are its very sharp spines across head and back. Perhaps the most dangerous spines are those on the underside of the tail. As the lobster flips its tail to flee, these spines pinch together. If you grab the lobster by the tail you run a risk if getting painful punctures. Your defense for these spines is a good pair of sturdy gloves.
MONTEREY AND MEXICAN LOBSTER
While the vast majority of lobsters seen and taken is found in waters south of Point Conception, during years with warmer waters, lobsters have been seen as far north as Monterey. It is also not a well-known fact that diving for lobster off San Luis Obispo County can be quite good. Southern range extends far down the Pacific side of Baja California reaching as far south as Magdalena Bay. It is, however, illegal for U.S. citizens to take lobster in Mexican waters.
BACKWARDS AND BLIND
While crawling about on their legs, lobsters can move in all directions. But when they flee from a predator, they swim backwards with a quick flips of their powerful tail. They speed off rapidly but usually not far as they tire easily. Furthermore, because they are swimming backwards, they are effectively blind in their panic. Many a dive buddy has been bonked in the chest or face by a lobster speeding away from his partner’s missed grab.
Because the lobster tires easily, and the generally swim in a straight line, just follow its path for a second chance.
LOBSTERS ARE STUPID, BUT HIGHLY REACTIVE
Hey, they are invertebrates; how smart can they be? Contrary to what a lot of frustrated hunters think, lobsters are not very bright. Curiosity often gets the best of them as they move out of a hole to see just who this bubble-blowing monster is! But the second they feel threatened, they will react, retreating to the cover of their crevice home. Your strategy is to act aggressively. Do not hesitate for the grab. Move in quickly and decisively.
THEY KNOW THE TIME OF YEAR
Contrary to what some hunters think, lobsters do not know the exact day that lobster season opens. But they do know the seasons. In the spring they move into shallow waters to breed. During the early summer they tend their eggs, females stowing them under her tail. And in the fall they are up in shallow waters to feed and enjoy the relative warmth and calm waters. In the late fall through early winter, they begin to move into deeper waters to avoid heavy surges and waves from storms. In short, early in the season, look shallow; later, look deeper.
Remember, lobsters move around. They move around not just from season to season but sometimes nightly. What may be a great spot one day may be nearly empty the next. Keep this in mind in your searching.
LOBSTER SITES YOU MAY HAVE NOT CONSIDERED
Of course, most serious lobster hunters will be heading out to the Channel Islands for generally good populations of lobster. But what often goes ignored are excellent coastal diving and hunting.
For this year’s season opener you may want to look to the Island Vista area near Santa Barbara. There is extensive eel and surf grass bed close to shore that lobsters like and a shallow kelp forest near shore. There are several easy access points along this long beach. Visibility here can, however, be poor.
Many shore diving opportunities lie in the northwest area of Los Angeles area that includes the community of Malibu. Conditions are generally calm in the fall (but check surf reports first) and in some places the reefs and kelp are close to shore and often completely ignored by both commercial and sport lobster hunters.
Palos Verdes is considered excellent lobster hunting grounds but beach access is difficult. Try Lunada Bay in the daytime among the shallow eel grass while free diving. The lobsters are often out in the open and easy grabs.
Shore diving at night can be tricky. Proper techniques, training and experience are a must.
Further Reading: California Lobster Diving by Kristine and Steve Barsky, Hammerhead Press, ISBN 0-9674305-2-6