Transporting live American lobsters, also known as Maine lobsters, may seem like an insurmountable task, but with care, you can carry them with you by car or airplane. While you may wonder, "How long do lobsters live out of water?" they do better than you might think as long as you keep them cool and moist. In fact, you can also ship your live lobsters through UPS or FedEx by using their next day or overnight express services.
How to Keep Lobsters Alive
The answer to the question, "How long will live lobsters keep in a cooler?" depends on your ability to keep them cool and moist while in transit. While lobsters have gills, they can survive out of the ocean for up to four or five days if kept cool and moist. Keep the lobsters in a cold location at 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit for several days before traveling or shipping. When kept cold, they require less oxygen to survive the trip.
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Do not pack the lobsters in ice. They freeze at approximately 29 degrees, plus the melting fresh water will damage their shells and kill them. Dry ice is also unacceptable, as it releases carbon dioxide into the container, which will suffocate the lobster.
Pack for Travel
Begin with a spill-proof plastic or Styrofoam container. Add a layer of frozen gel packs to the bottom followed by several layers of wet seaweed or newspapers. Secure the lobsters' claws with rubber bands or cable ties to ensure they cannot damage the gel packs or each other. Add the lobsters and cover them with more wet seaweed.
Put the lid on the container, pack it into your vehicle and head for home. Keep an eye on the lobsters as you travel. They must be kept cool and moist through the entire trip to ensure their survival until they reach your kitchen. If disaster strikes and the lobsters succumb before you get them home, sniff carefully; an ammonia smell means that they must be discarded in the trash.
Pack for Shipping
If you are shipping lobsters, use an insulated shipping kit or a Styrofoam container packed inside a heavy-duty cardboard shipping box. When shipping several lobsters, cardboard dividers will keep the lobsters secure and separated from each other as they travel. Use gel packs and cover them with packing paper. Also wrap the lobsters in damp packing paper or seaweed.
Put the wrapped lobsters into the cardboard sections with tail down and claws up. They must be secure but not crushed in the packaging. Leave a little space for air. Close the package and use one strip of cold-resistant tape to hold it closed.
Take the box of lobsters to the shipper of your choice. Clearly label the package with "live animals," "fragile" and "perishable." Ship the package using the quickest method available and request a delivery signature. Notify the recipient and make sure the recipient understands that the box should be opened and the lobsters placed in the refrigerator to keep them cool and calm until dinnertime, preferably the same day.
TSA and Live Lobsters
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows live lobsters through security at airports within the United States. However, check with the airline to make sure that your carrier allows live lobsters as a carry on, in checked bags or at all.
The lobster must be packed in a clear, spill-proof plastic container so the TSA officer can inspect it at the security checkpoint. In addition, the container must be within the airline's required dimensions for stowing under the seat in front of you or as a carry-on. Pack your lobster with frozen gel packs and wet seaweed, damp newspapers or packing paper to ensure that they survive the trip.