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Tempest in a Stewpot Over Clamor to Free Spike


There were police, a small band of indomitable supporters, and of course, several news crews. But Spike, the focus of it all, was pulling the usual celebrity stunt. Hidden by his handlers, he was nowhere to be seen.

One could only peer at the wooden barricade in the lobby of Gladstone's 4 Fish restaurant and guess at what was going on in his spiny head. Was he yearning for the frigid bottom of the North Atlantic, or was he just as happy to have calamari-tipped chopsticks slipped into his claws a few hundred feet from the Pacific?

Only Spike knows for sure. But there is no shortage of people willing to speak for the 12 1/2-pound New England lobster, whose age is well into the doubledigits.

"Free Spike," demanded the banner Doug Stoll held aloft Saturday afternoon in front of the Pacific Palisades restaurant as he and a dozen other lobster liberationists protested the venerable crustacean's tank-bound fate as Gladstone's new mascot. Saying that an airline has offered to give Spike a free return ticket to New England, the group wants him shipped home for release in the Atlantic.

After all, Stoll pointed out, if Spike stays at Gladstone's, it will be a long, zoo-like existence in a place dedicated to the consumption of Spike's brethren.

"Too many people are going to salivate over him instead of sympathizing," said Stoll, a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a national group that has been involved with several other lobster-release efforts. "The natural habitat, in our view, has got to be better than the captive habitat."

Gladstone's managers, who got Spike from one of their lobster suppliers about six weeks ago, beg to differ. Originally, they had planned to raffle him off as part of their October lobster fest. But enough customers and staff took a liking to the hefty Homarus americanus to win him a reprieve.

Instead of boiling Spike, they called the New England Aquarium in Boston for tips on how to keep him alive. They gave him some rocks, a supply of seafood and his own dark water tank in the lobby. They also named a drink after him: "Spike's Cove," a concoction of vodka, cranberry juice and lemon.

"I believe we're treating him very ethically," said Kathryn Koenigsberg, Gladstone's assistant general manager. "We're feeding him. We're taking care of him as we would a pet."

As for that ticket home, she said, marine experts have indicated that more traveling could be worse for Spike than staying put.

Spike, meanwhile, was secreted behind a barricade Saturday. The staff did not want to take any chances that activists would whisk him away. A few police officers also stood in the parking lot, keeping an eye on the protesters--who showed no lobsternaping intentions whatsoever.

All the while, Gladstone's patrons streamed into the 700-seat restaurant, oblivious to the notion of Spike rights.

"Ah, b.s.," was David Sears' response as he headed for the entrance. "When are they going to cook it?"

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