Pearls are unique. While most other gemstones are formed in the earth’s crust, pearls are formed inside living beings. Many people are curious to know the true story behind pearl farming and harvesting and if this is a cruelty-free process. Let’s go into details and see what’s hidden behind the pearl farming industry.
How Pearls are Harvested
As mentioned before natural pearls are very rare and extremely expensive gemstones. That is why people developed some ways to culture pearls since the early times.
Before the development of pearl farming, people used to fish for oysters containing pearls. They would open the shells, look for the rare gems and throw the molluscs back into the water.
Nowadays, pearl farmers cultivate pearls in ideal controlled conditions in both seawater and freshwater. Farmers keep the oysters in sheltered bays that have nutrient-rich waters. Periodically, oysters are lifted and checked for parasites that may interfere with their feeding.
It may seem pearls grow fast, but actually, they take between six months and four years to form and farmers take care of oysters during the whole period.
When it’s time to remove the pearl, the oysters are sent to harvesting facilities. This is an extremely delicate process and requires gentle hands. Professionals will very carefully open the oyster and take the pearl off using a sharp instrument.
If everything is done properly, removing a pearl doesn’t harm the oyster. Usually, farmers insert a new nucleus and grow another pearl inside of the same mollusc. Pearls grown by older oysters are of a higher quality and usually larger than first-generation pearls. So pearl farmers take great care not to harm the oysters during the harvesting process.
Do Oysters Feel Pain?
This question has been argued among vegans and animal rights activists in our Instagram post discussion for a long time. To answer this question, we suggest setting aside any moral and philosophical arguments for a moment and discuss what pain is and how oysters might process it.
Oysters do not have a central nervous system. Instead, they have two ganglia that serve the “stimuli response” function of oysters which is built more for reflex than reflection.
For example, if a doctor taps your knee with a small hammer, you first jerk the leg (that’s a reflex). Then your brain understands that you feel the pain that the hammer caused (that’s a reflection).
Oysters do not seem to be able to process the second behaviour. Instead, they react to environmental changes, but this has nothing to do with pain.
How Many Pears Does an Oyster Produce?
All the cultured pearls, except naturally forming Keshi pearls and pearls from Bahrain, are nucleated. The nucleus used in pearls is mother-of-pearl beads made from freshwater mussel shells found in North America.
These beads are made from an oyster shell that has been cut, shaped, polished and implanted in gonad – the oyster’s reproductive organ.
Saltwater oysters produce 1 to 2 pearls per nucleation. Akoya oysters can be nucleated up to 5 beads but they die at harvest. South Sea oysters accept only one nucleus at a time, they do not die at harvest and can be nucleated several times.
Freshwater pearls that make nearly 95% of total global pearl production are much less valuable than saltwater pearls. A single freshwater mussel typically produces between 30 and 50 pearls at a time.