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SCIENCE IN THE NEWS DAILY

Soft-Shell Lobsters So Soon? It's a Mystery in Maine

from NPR

April and May are fairly quiet times for Maine lobstermen and women, with the height of the summer season still a couple of months away. This year, strange things are happening on the ocean floor. Many of the lobsters have prematurely shed their hard shells, and lobstermen are hauling large numbers of soft-shelled lobsters much earlier than usual.

"That is definitely not normal," says Steve Train, who's been hauling traps for 35 years in Casco Bay, near Portland. He usually sees hard-shell lobsters at this time of year, instead of these "shedders"--lobsters that have abandoned their old casing to grow into a new, hard one.

This year, many lobstermen began catching shedders in April--four to six weeks ahead of the normal time. Train says they're outnumbering hard-shell lobsters about two to one in his traps, and he's puzzled. "We didn't expect them," he says. "I don't know if they'll be there next haul. We might go out next week and they'll be gone." The early shed surprised biologists, too.

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