Billy Coppersmith has been a lobster fisherman for about four decades, and he thought he’d possibly seen everything there was to see along the coast of Maine.
But when he reeled in a trap one afternoon this month as he was sailing in Casco Bay near Portland, a light blue spot tucked among the other lobsters caught his eye.
At first, he thought it was a piece of plastic or a toy, but when he looked closer he saw something else: the odd color was a lobster.
“Hey, look at this, you guys!” Coppersmith, 64, of Windham, Maine, said to the two sternmen aboard the Billy and Andy, Coppersmith’s 42-foot fiberglass fishing vessel they were on the afternoon of Nov. 5.
One of them, Joe Hoffman, said the critter – shiny light blue with accents of pink – looked like cotton candy.
Perplexed, Coppersmith texted a photo of his catch to his contact at the company that buys his lobsters. He quickly heard back that the extremely rare crustacean he’d caught is indeed called a cotton candy lobster, and it is estimated to make up only 1 of 100 million lobsters, according to industry officials.
Coppersmith, a native of the Pine Tree State, thought this rare lobster needed a name. He called her Haddie, after his granddaughter, who is turning 9 this week.
It’s possible that the exquisite shellfish, which is vulnerable to predators, was lured out of hiding because a stormy few days made the waters murky, and she felt safer from predators, Coppersmith said.
Or maybe the freshwater that fell into the bay from the rain led her out of hiding in search of saltier water.
Whatever the reason for the lucky discovery, Coppersmith knew he couldn’t offer the colorful lobster up as seafood. Mark Murrell, founder and CEO of Get Maine Lobster, agreed.
They decided to look for a place that would take in Haddie and look after her.
“It’s the rarest of the peculiar lobster,” said Murrell, whose company ships lobsters around the country to restaurants and other customers. “It’s the first time I’ve ever seen one in person.”
He also wanted Haddie, who weighs about 1.1 pounds, to be on display for others to see.
“It’s so cool that Mother Nature produced a lobster like this. Her shell . . . it’s beautiful. You put it under a different light, and it’s amazing. She really starts to sparkle and different colors emerge: blue, pink, aqua. It’s like the inside of an oyster shell.”
Wild lobsters most commonly are a dark greenish-brown, according to Maine Lobster Now, but they can develop other hues as a result of a genetic mutation that causes a color of pigment to be missing. Lobsters are often thought of as being bright red, but they are that color only when they are cooked, because only the red pigments in the shell can withstand the heat.
The cotton candy lobster may get its unicorn coloring from a genetic mutation or perhaps a low-pigment diet, according to National Geographic. There aren’t any firm statistics on this particular lobster, but industry officials are calling it as rare as the 1-in-100-million albino lobster, according to the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute.
After catching Haddie, Coppersmith put the lobster, who looked to be about 6 to 7 years old (and he pointed out was not pregnant), in an onboard tank, where the iridescent lobster kind of glowed in the dark, he said. He brought her back to Get Maine Lobster for safekeeping.
He has caught other unusually colored lobsters before, including a pure white one he named Lincoln, and an orange-red one he named Eli after his grandson.
But the cotton candy color is a first for him.
“It looks like it might belong in some colorful coral place, but we don’t have that around here,” he said. “Where the heck it came from? I don’t know how it survived.”
Murrell and Coppersmith circulated the news about the rare find and asked for offers to adopt the lobster and give her a permanent home.
Murrell got some offers from private saltwater aquarium hobbyists to purchase Haddie, he said. But he wanted her to go to a professional organization where scientists would monitor the water.
About 10 major aquariums, including the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, offered to take the lobster, but Murrell reached out to the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, N.H., which he knew already had rare lobsters. On Friday, Murrell drove Haddie on an hour-long road trip to Seacoast. The lobster was covered with a damp newspaper blanket over a bed of seaweed.
At Seacoast, Haddie will have a peaceful life and is sure to be a hit with visitors, said Robert Royer, senior aquarist for the seaside institution at Odiorne Point State Park. Royer plans to put Haddie in a brief quarantine, then place her in a 50-gallon tank – probably alone, but she may have an orange-blue split lobster as a tankmate. She will have plenty of room to crawl around on a sandy floor and hide in caves, and could easily live another decade or more, Royer said.
Scientists estimate that some lobsters can live to be more than 100 years old.
Haddie, who should be on display later this week, will be part of a new exhibit about lobsters that is expected to open in the spring of 2022. Guests are often shocked when they see the center’s multicolored lobsters, including a split orange and white, a darker blue one, and an orangey-yellow lobster, Royer said.
“Some of them almost look like they’ve been spray-painted because they’re so bright,” he added.
Murrell said that he is glad he played a part in preserving Haddie the cotton candy lobster, and that he hopes she brings joy to visitors who marvel at her colors.
“She deserves a nice, long life in a beautiful aquarium,” he said.