Saving Larry: Seafood lovers take mercy on lobster
A lobster just over 15 pounds that may be over 100 years old brought together some South Florida business associates in an emergency display of lobster love that brought tearful reflection to a lifelong seafood man.
Now, through everybody’s efforts, the lobster will have a new home to go with his new name. He left Sunrise’s Tin Fish Restaurant Wednesday tucked in a salt-water soaked towel for the Maine State Aquarium.
His new name? Larry, after the lifeguard lobster in “SpongeBob Squarepants.”
“This is an effort to connect with the kids for this story,” wrote iRescue Wildlife, Inc. founder John Merritt in a letter to the media.
This story started when Tin Fish chain founder and owner Joe Melluso’s seafood supplier mentioned he had a 15-pound lobster. Melluso once caught a 26-pounder during his teenage years on a Long Island lobster boat, but remained skeptical about a 15-pounder until he saw it.
“You can pull in hundreds of thousands of pounds (of lobster) and never see a lobster this size,” Melluso said.
Melluso purchased the catch and figured it would be dinner for several someones. Lobsters can’t live many days outside water.
The University of Maine Lobster Institute says there’s no exact way to determine a lobster’s age. A University of New Brunswick 2012 study says you can tell the age by growth bands in the eye or gastric mill, an arrangement of teeth and small bones in a crustacean to grind food. Melluso went with the theory of seven years of life for every pound —thus a 15-pound lobster would be 105 years old, give or take, he estimated.
Amir Rossi saw the WPLG-ABC 10 Facebook post on the lobster and called Merritt. Rossi works with Nu World Title. He quickly rounded up friends Erik Martinez and Brooke Estren of La Playa Real Estate, and Vicki Brewer, the University of Maryland’s Council on the Environment’s administration director.
“In probably about a half an hour, we decided we were going to do this,” Rossi said.
Estren said it would cost $300 to buy the lobster plus shipping by FedEx: “If you’re going to live 110 years, you deserve to live and not be someone’s dinner.”
Merritt contacted the restaurant with the plan to buy the lobster and send him back to his natural habitat, Maine. Meanwhile, Martinez and Estren scrambled to learn about shipping a live lobster.
“Before the sun went down [Tuesday], I ran to the beach because supposedly you need to use a giant towel that’s soaked in saltwater,” Estren said. “And you have to put it in the freezer. They wrap him in it, I guess as it melts, it keeps him alive. I didn’t know about that.”
At the restaurant, Chef Dennis Alvarez had to deal with a customer bringing a group ready to devour Larry. Alvarez satisfied them with a 14-pound fish.
Late Wednesday morning, Larry’s rescuers started to arrive, except Merritt, who is in Costa Rica. They chuckled at Larry’s feistiness and marveled at his size, especially his gargantuan claws. The claws carry 45 percent of a lobster’s weight.
Melluso supervised the packing of the cooler: Larry, wrapped up in the towel, with cold packs on top of him but no ice (it’ll melt, and Larry does not need that kind of water). Duct tape around the edges and Larry was set for travel. As he considered the group of professionals shelling out time and money to save this lobster they would meet for only a sliver of his life, Melluso choked up.
“My whole life’s been about fish and seafood,” Melluso said. “I’m happiest when I have a knife in my hand and fish fileted. I’ve trained and learned from all the great old guys. I think I have a responsibility to be awesome and to teach and carry on some of the heritage that’s associated with it.
“At first, when I heard there were organizations involved, I was like, ‘Ah, that’s so silly,’” he continued. “Then, I was like, ‘They’re looking to protect and serve the species in a responsible way. I should be thinking like that.’ ”
An earlier version of this story miscalculated the mathematical formula to determine the lobster’s age.