The beaches of Santa Barbara were flooded with red as hordes of thirteen centimeter red crabs drifted onto shore on the first of May. The crabs, also known as the Pelagic Red Crabs, are a species of Squat Lobsters. The red crabs live in the continental shelf west of Mexico and baja California.
As a result of El Nino and warmer weather, the crustaceans are carried to the shore as they swarm to mate.
“When we see them up in our neck of the woods, in Santa Barbara, it’s generally indicative of an El Nino or warmer waters,” said Environmental Science and Climate Change Professor, Dawn Alexandra Murray to news channel KEYT. “They probably got pushed ashore in the last few days in the onshore winds and now they are struggling to survive along the shoreline.”
However, this is not the first time swarms of Pelagic crabs strayed from their homes in Mexico. Thousands of red crabs were also seen last June in San Diego as well as this year on May 9. This spectacle is becoming less and less rare. Some experts point out that if El Nino were the main cause of these red crab sightings, we would start to see them less and less due to El Nino dwindling.
“How much that warming due to prior condition versus what is happening now with El Nino, is difficult to sort that out,” said University of Washington Climatologist Nick Bond to 10news.
It is important to help the little critters back into the ocean since they play a key role in the food web. Animals including birds, fish, and other aquatic animals have these Pelagic Crabs in their diet.
“These crabs are a really important food item for whales, for birds and for fish. Actually, they are sometimes called the tuna crab because tuna love eating them so much,” said Murray. “Grey whales that are migrating along our coast choose to eat these crabs too.”
Santa Barbarians did a great job of helping the crabs back into the water. During the first weekend of May, children and adults from the Santa Barbara community could be seen on Leadbetter Beach helping the crabs back into the ocean. Hopefully the next time we see these crabs, our community will continue to stand up and help the critters along their journey back into the ocean.
Photo by Tim Buss