The dog days of summer are upon us, which means it’s time for pool parties, lemonade stands, cross-country vacations and … the Maine Lobster Festival?

But before you pile the family into a car bound for Rockland, I’d like to share with you the story of how I came to call crustaceans sea life, not seafood. I co-wrote a chart-topping single inspired by them and eventually teamed up with PETA on this new video to give you some food for thought.

While I was growing up in New Jersey, my family headed for the coast to see relatives near Toms River every summer. We’d go crabbing in their boat on the bay and bring in our catch for cooking. At the ripe age of 4, as I watched while live crabs were dumped into boiling water, I vowed never to eat them again. Today, I still won’t attend dinners on the beach and am appalled when I see crustaceans being cooked alive.

In the ’70s, the idea for the B-52s’ breakthrough hit “Rock Lobster” was sparked by a slide show at an Atlanta disco that showed puppies playing, children playing and then lobsters on a grill. I was infuriated!

But I thought, “Hmm, rock this, rock that … rock lobster!” I told the band, and we jammed on the title and came up with the song. We were dismayed when people started bringing live lobsters to our shows, which we stopped them from doing. And when a soup company asked for permission to use the song to promote a lobster bisque, of course, I refused.

Crustaceans are unfamiliar to us – I get it. With their exoskeletons, jointed legs and long antennae, they certainly aren’t cuddly like dogs and cats are.

Despite such differences, though, there’s something big that they have in common with us: the capacity to suffer. The idea of subjecting a fellow animal to a painful death for food has always haunted me, especially now, in light of the mounting evidence of their suffering.

From observations of shore crabs who changed their behavior to avoid electric shocks and hermit crabs who rubbed at their injuries, science has confirmed that these animals can feel pain, which is something that we humans have long tried to ignore.

A decade ago, in the aftermath of Maine’s lobster festival, the renowned author David Foster Wallace scoured the available literature on crustacean pain and asked readers, in a piece in Gourmet magazine, to consider the lobster.

After learning that lobsters possess sensitive pain receptors that are similar to our own, he wrote, “(Lobsters) do have an exquisite tactile sense, one facilitated by hundreds of thousands of tiny hairs that protrude through their carapace.”

And invertebrate zoologist Dr. Jaren Horsley confirms that they have a “sophisticated nervous system” and concludes that lobsters can sense pain.

Yet 20 million of these sensitive animals, who carry their young for 9 months, take long-distance trips and hold claws with their young, are still slaughtered for our plates every year in the U.S. alone.

That’s why this year, for the 35th anniversary of “Rock Lobster,” I helped launch a PETA video to expose the callous abuse at crustacean slaughterhouses, where lobsters and crabs are routinely dismembered while they’re still conscious.

As you’ll see in the undercover footage in my video, lobsters’ claws and legs are ripped or cut off, they are impaled on a metal pipe and then their heads and tails are torn from their bodies. Crabs’ outer shells are pried off, their exposed flesh is pressed against a spinning wheel of coarse bristles and they’re finally submerged in a vat of boiling water to die.

Fortunately, it’s easy to keep crustaceans off your plate, even for diehard seafood fans. There are many cruelty-free options these days, from decadent vegan lobster bisque to crunchy vegan crab rangoon and even a full-sized vegan lobster.

Instead of trekking to the Maine Lobster Festival, I hope you’ll take the time to enjoy Maine’s plentiful treasures, such as breathtaking Acadia National Park, whale-watching tours and eclectic music festivals. Please – let lobsters and crabs rock on!

— Special to the Press Herald