By Donald Wittkowski
It was moving day on Tuesday, but the rare blue lobster was in no mood to leave its home at the Jersey Shore.
The feisty crustacean raised its two claws a few times in a fighting posture, daring anyone to try to pick it up from the dock in Sea Isle City.
But biologists Nicole Gioia and Samantha Ehinger of the Adventure Aquarium were able to corral the lobster with little trouble and then gently submerged it in a cooler filled with chilly water. The cooler, in turn, was placed in the back of an aquarium van.
After a 90-minute ride from Sea Isle to Camden, the lobster safely arrived at its new home at Adventure Aquarium. Plans call for putting it on public display in child-friendly touch tanks as the aquarium’s newest exotic attraction.
Ehinger explained that, on average, only one in every two million lobsters is blue, a result of a genetic defect.
“This guy’s so cute. I can’t stand it,” Ehinger said with a laugh while marveling over the smallish, 1.5-pound lobster resplendent in a brilliant blue hue.
The lobster was caught by the crew of the Sea Isle-based commercial fishing boat Two Dukes on Oct. 23 about 85 miles off the coast of New Jersey. For the past week, it was held captive in a container submerged in a lagoon where the boat is moored in Sea Isle City’s historic Fish Alley district. During that time, it was fed sardines, butterfish and herring.
Commercial lobsterman Eric Burcaw Sr., the owner of Two Dukes, offered to donate the creature to Adventure Aquarium to make sure it would be saved. The aquarium agreed to accept it on Monday and sent Gioia and Ehinger to Sea Isle on Tuesday to pick it up.
Burcaw’s sons, Eric Jr. and Kevin, caught the crustacean while out on a lobster-fishing trip. At the urging of the Burcaw family, Gioia and Ehinger began calling the male lobster Duke in honor of the Twin Dukes fishing boat.
“Duke and Elvis, I like it,” Ehinger said.
Elvis is another blue lobster already on display at Adventure Aquarium. Elvis has attained celebrity status through a series of promotional appearances, including a stop on NBC’s “Today” show.
Elvis actually is a female lobster, much bigger than Duke. Gioia and Ehinger weren’t sure whether both lobsters would be put on display together in the same touch tank.
Scientists believe that lobsters may live as long as 100 years, but no one has yet figured out a way to accurately tell their age, the Adventure Aquarium website says. Having two of the remarkably rare blue lobsters is quite a public relations coup for the aquarium.
“At this point, we’re very excited to bring him into our collection and have him at our aquarium,” Adventure Aquarium spokeswoman Deanna Sabec said of the second blue lobster.
Bob Burcaw, the 83-year-old patriarch of the Burcaw family, had never seen a blue lobster before during his career as a commercial fisherman. The senior Burcaw was left in charge of the blue lobster Tuesday morning because his son and grandsons were in North Carolina picking up a new boat for their company.
“I think it’s pretty amazing,” said Burcaw, who was a commercial fisherman for about 20 years before he retired at 65.
Burcaw’s daughter, Lori Wilson, said she had only seen blue lobsters in pictures before. On Tuesday, she got her first look at a live one after removing it from the container and placing it on the dock.
“I simply can’t believe it,” she exclaimed.
A few minutes later, Gioia and Ehinger arrived to take the lobster – its claws raised in defiance – to its new home at the aquarium.