Before he began the tradition of the lobster bake in the 1960s, former Director of the Dining Service Larry Pinette took a class on seafood preparation at the Culinary Institute of America.

Little did he know, the Dining Service would eventually be cooking as many as 1,400 lobsters for the College's annual bake.

Today, lobsters bought for the bake at market price are carted to the College's old central warehouse on Whittier Street, which is used as refrigeration space for large events. There the crustaceans are placed on beds of seaweed in 14 aluminum bake plates. Covered in foil, they resemble "large containers of jiffy pop popcorn," according to Assistant Director of the Dining Service Ken Cardone.

The lobsters are then steamed, a technique that cooks them quicker than other methods, due to the steam's expansion.

"You put about two inches of water in, you get it to a rolling boil, then you put the lobsters in," said Purchasing Manager of the Dining Service Jon Wiley. "You don't boil the lobsters, because then you toughen the flesh."

When ready, the now less-lively lobsters are fork-lifted through the woods to Farley Field.

This wasn't the site of Wiley and Cardone's first bake in the summer of 1989. Back then, students broke tails and claws in the space where Chamberlain Hall now stands.

Prior to Thorne Hall's construction in 2000, there was a patio with outside seating over which the Dining Service would raise a tent.

The move to Farley was prompted by a growing body of students. In 1989, Wiley and Cardone were only serving about 700 lobsters to a student population of around 1,100.

Throughout the years, the bake has evolved to keep up with the College's evolving goals. To cater to the College's sustainability mission, the Dining Service decided in 2009 to make all waste from the bake, including trash bags, 100 percent compostable. The remains of the feast are hauled in a 30-yard dumpster to a Topsham farm, where they decompose over the course of six months.

One thing that hasn't changed: since the first bake in the 1960s, there has been plenty of lobster to go around.

While the lobster industry ran into some obstacles during the financial crisis of 2008, lobsters are currently in record high abundance.

An August 22 New York Times article "Lobsters Find Utopia Where Biologists See Trouble" cited the current Maine lobster population as "hyperdense" and noted that lobsters constitute 80 percent of Maine's seafood income.

While lobstermen see this as good news and a credit to their management of the industry, others find cause for concern.

College of William and Mary Professor Jon Allen, who spent his summer at the Coastal Studies Center researching urchin populations, expressed concern for the Maine ecosystem.

Overfishing has decimated the previously abundant urchin stock and Allen believes that the lobster surplus may be due in part to reduced urchin numbers. There are not enough urchins to curtail the growth of kelp forests, habitats in which lobsters and crabs do quite well. As both species are urchin predators, this works to further decrease the urchin population.

Over the years, Maine's ecosystem has experienced major changes in its dominant species.

"Right now, lobstermen and crabbers happy," Allen said. "Ten years ago, urchin harvesters were pretty happy. Two hundred years ago, we were catching cod."

Allen suspects that Maine is not going to overfish lobster and crabs because it is effectively aqua-culturing on a gulf-wide scale, but expressed concern over the inefficient harvesting of bait. While the lobster harvest is still watched scrupulously, bait stock continues to be depleted.

Wiley noted that the population of alewives—a species of herring—in the Kennebec River has dwindled from around 18 million in the 1920s and 30s to about 2 million in present years. This, he said, is the focus of Coastal Studies Scholar-in-Residence Ted Ames' research, which is looking to provide new strategies for dealing with the depletion issue.

Still, until the day when lobsters die out, Bowdoin will continue to have its lobster bake.

"It's tradition," said Cardone.

Wiley and Cardone don't know of another college or university that holds lobster bake on the scale that Bowdoin does. Just as lobster is a Maine tradition and signature dish, they said, so has the bake become a signature of Bowdoin.

This article was edited for correctness on September 17, 2011.