Monday, June 21, 2010

Rare, bright blue lobster caught off Isles of Shoals

The lobsters Jim Newick catches and delivers to the family-owned Newick's Lobster House restaurant are usually headed to a dinner plate and not celebrity.

However, one of Newick's Wednesday catches was no regular lobster.

A rare bright blue lobster appropriately dubbed "Smurf" by the restaurant's staff, is getting a lot of attention and is being kept alive for the enjoyment of customers and possible donation to the New England Aquarium in Boston.

The approximately 7-year-old blue crustacean is certainly unusual, with marine biology experts estimating they only occur in one in every five million lobsters.

Their unusual color is attributed to blue lobsters being better at processing a red-colored complex antioxidant pigment that is absorbed into their skin and shell through their diet.

Employees and customers at the 431 Dover Point Road restaurant have seen plenty of lobsters and said they were amazed by a blue lobster caught off the Isles of Shoals by Jim Newick — the son of restaurant owner Jack Newick.

Newick's Lobster House Director of Operations Wes Rogers has been working at the restaurant since 1982 and said Smurf is something to behold.

"It's the bluest I've ever seen. It's wicked fun ... everyone is coming in to see him," Rogers said.

Rogers said the approximately 1 pound lobster is certainly a survivor as he lacks the camouflage of his normal colored peers and also appear to be regrowing a "crushing" claw.

"He is feisty. I gave him some scallops and he sucked them right down," Rogers said.

While most lobsters finding their way to Newick's make their way onto a dinner plate, Rogers said they will be calling the New England Aquarium and then other more local science centers to see if they want to adopt Smurf for educational/research purposes.

"We are going to try and give him a long life because he's so different," Rogers explained.

Newick's customers marveled at the creature on Thursday as they came in for dinner and found themselves getting the rare opportunity to see such an anomaly.

Sheila Marshall of Somersworth jokingly asked: "Are you sure it's not blue permanent marker?"

Several small children asked if the animal would taste the same as regular lobsters with Rogers responding that he would, but that nobody will be finding out because he is being saved.

Jean and Jim Martin of Stanley, New York said they felt lucky to happen upon the restaurant on the day the blue lobster was there.

"I think it's amazing ... it's gorgeous," Jean Martin said.

And while Smurf is rare, he isn't the only blue lobster to have been caught in the Seacoast region in recent time.

In August of 2009 New Castle-based lobsterman Bill Marconi hauled in one of his 400 traps to find a 11⁄2-pound cobalt-blue lobster he initially mistook for a beer can.

New England Aquarium Research Director Mike Tlusty said at that time that the usually brownish-red creatures also come in varieties that are very red, orange, kind of yellow or entirely white.

Tlusty said lobsters make their own pigments by eating and are usually brownish in color so they can camouflage themselves in their muddy habitats.

He said lobsters — even the normal colored ones — have skin and shells made up of red, yellow and blue pigments that are absorbed into their bodies from the food they eat, which contain astaxanthin, an antioxidant with a red pigment derived from algae.

Blue lobsters are different from regular colored ones in that they are better at processing astaxanthin, which results in their layers of coloring favoring a blue pigment as the substance bonds with proteins in a lobster's shell.

Rogers said Smurf's coloring may have a scientific explanation, but he said it doesn't take away from the draw.

"Everyone is coming in and staring at him. He has been on Facebook and everything," Rogers said with a laugh.

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