Danny Lee, executive chef at the Burger & Lobster restaurant in the Flatiron District in Manhattan, goes through thousands pounds of lobster each week. Normally the lobsters are tossed into holding tanks before the crustaceans are cooked up for customers.
But earlier this month, Lee spotted one lobster that looked different than all the rest in a shipment from Canada. Standing out in the sea of greenish-brown creatures was an orange-blonde lobster. It almost looked like it had been already cooked.
“She was very obvious,” he said. “She was different.”
But he didn’t realize how different the rare yellow lobster was. The odds of finding such colored lobsters is estimated at just 1 in 30 million, far more rare than blue lobsters, the odds of which are 1 in 4 million.
“We though it was a shame that she’d be cooked up,” Lee said.
So the restaurant kept the lobster in a tank by its waiting area and named her Miss Ruby.
On Thursday, Miss Ruby found a new home: the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead.
“We’re excited for her,” said Liza Cervantes, the assistant general manager at the restaurant who helped bring the 1.5-pound lobster by car out from New York City. “Ruby was our star of the tank for quite a bit … We cook a lot of lobsters so if we spare eating one, it’s alright.”
Joe Yaiullo, curator and co-founder of the Long Island Aquarium, said there are many different color variations to lobsters thanks to different genetic mutations. Just like a person’s hair color, a lobster’s color is based primarily on genes.
One reason yellow lobsters may be rarer is because the bright coloring makes them more obvious to predators, Yaiullo said.
“It’s like eat me, eat me,” he said.
As Cervantes carried Miss Ruby into the aquarium in a plastic box, Yaiullo seemed concerned as he inspected the lobster.
She wasn’t as big as he had expected, he said, which means she’ll likely need to be placed into a separate tank in the lobster exhibit for her safety.
Miss Ruby also had a soft gap between her shell and her tail, likely caused by the stress of being shipped. Still, she’s lucky to have fallen into the hands of owners who decided not to cook her up.
“They took great care of her,” Yaiullo said. “Hopefully, she’ll get some fluids in her and tighten up.”
Miss Ruby was gracefully dropped into the Rocky Shores exhibit at the aquarium just before noon Thursday. She was flipped over and placed on the sandy floor of the tank, which is meant to represent the habitat at a local inlet or jetty.
Sure enough, a male sea bass immediately took an interest in the crustacean and nipped at it before Yaiullo scared it off with a pole. The lobster soon retreated into a cave with an eel inside for protection, a perfectly normal and encouraging behavior, Yaiullo said.
Just before they left, Lee and Cervantes stayed by the exhibit and watched Miss Ruby get acclimated. Lee said he plans to bring his young daughter to the aquarium someday to visit the rare lobster.
Cervantes, who has family members on Long Island, said she’ll also make the drive again someday.
“I don’t mind coming out here to visit Miss Ruby,” she said.