Regardless of whether or not lobsters have real “feelings,” or just built-in biological mechanisms to insure survival (“land, bad–water, good”), they’re certainly not equipped to live on a handful of seaweed atop the ice in a grocery store seafood display.

And they don’t–not more than three or four days, anyway, which is how long it takes their 20 sets of gills to give up trying to “breathe.” Seeing the creatures slowly suffocating in the company of (dead) shrimp, (way dead) fish filets and other delicacies from the deep was too much for one concerned shopper at the Chapel Hill Wellspring/Whole Foods store.

Maria Tadd, a local activist who sits on the Orange County Planning Board, says she talked to the store’s seafood staff in early November about putting the creatures in a tank. After filling out a written complaint, she was told that George Jones, team leader for the Chapel Hill store, would be giving her a call.

Ten days later, Tadd says she returned to the store to find a new batch of lobsters peering out of the case. Once again, she talked to the seafood staff: “One guy wasn’t worried about it since it was lobsters,” she says. “But he said it would bother him if it were octopuses because they’re quite intelligent.” Tadd says she was told that Whole Foods couldn’t afford a lobster tank and that she would be hearing from Jones.

In the meantime, Tadd decided to launch an e-mail campaign to inform other shoppers about what she saw as ill treatment of lobsters at Whole Foods. Apparently, it worked. A friend of a friend, who’d also complained, received an e-mail reply from Jones that stated: “In response to customer concern over our current practice, we have decided to no longer display live lobsters.” The e-mail said Whole Foods will special order lobsters for same-day pickup only. If customers must have lobster that minute, the store will refer them to Squid’s or the nearest lobster tank-equipped supermarket.

When asked about the absence of lobster displays, Jones says, “It’s in no way a change in policy for Whole Foods. It’s a practice at our Chapel Hill store. When customers brought it to our attention, we wanted to respond to that.”

For her part, Tadd’s pleased with the results of the crustacean-friendly protest. But then, Wellspring’s customers are primarily educated people, she notes. “They’re probably aware that lobsters belong in the water.”