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A pearl growing naturally inside an oyster

In the olden days the lustrous and beautiful natural pearls were a symbol of wealth and pride for those who owned them. For those who care about Ahimsä, the pearl is a symbol of pain and suffering.

Pearls are a response to an irritation caused by a foreign particle. It naturally occurs when sand or a bit of a shell is accidentally trapped inside the oyster. It is like having a foreign particle in the human eye, causing irritation until it is removed. Generally, the oyster cannot expel the foreign particle. To reduce the pain it secretes a substance called nacre, which surrounds the particle. After several years layers of nacre form a pearl around the particle making it less painful. Due to this natural process pearls were rarely found.

An artificial nucleus inserted into an oyster

To avoid waiting for natural pearls humans started searching for young oysters in the deep ocean to make cultured pearls. A short while after the oysters are removed from the sea an artificial irritant - a nucleus graft - is inserted in them.

The nucleated oysters are returned to the sea, in specific areas, so that they can be retrieved later. Here the oysters feed and grow depositing lustrous layers of nacre around their nuclei to avoid the pain of a foreign particle.

A pearl being pulled out of an oyster
before the oyster is thrown out

After a period of 3 to 4 months the oysters are ready for harvest. They are brought ashore and opened with sterile instruments. Sometimes the oysters are used several times before they are bruised and can no longer be used. Then they are thrown away.

The Oyster

There once was an oyster
Whose story I tell
Who found that some sand
Had got into his shell.

It was only a grain
but it gave him great pain.
For oysters have feelings
Although they're so plain.

Now, did he berate
the harsh workings of fate
that had brought him
to such a deplorable state?

Did he curse at the government
Cry for election
And claim that the sea
should have given him protection?

'No,' he said to himself
As he lay on a shell
Since I cannot remove it
I shall try to improve it.

Now the years have rolled around
As the years always do
And he came to his ultimate Destiny - stew.

And the small grain of sand
That had bothered him so
Was a beautiful pearl
All richly aglow.

Now the tale has a moral
for isn't it grand
What an oyster can do
with a morsel of sand?

What couldn't we do
If we'd only begin
With some of the things
That get under our skin.

David Cohen

What should we do? What do we do? The oyster gives us something to think about.