John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Welcome to the “crabocalypse.”
Attention, seafood lovers! Grab your mallets and head on down to sunny Newport Beach, California, where the waterfront is strewn with a “big red blanket” of crabs.
OK, so these critters are too tiny to make for good eatin’, reports the Orange County Register (the source of the above quote). But many people are nevertheless trekking to the crawling, crustaceous tide, according to the paper, taking selfies with the crabs or—and this is kind of sad—desperately trying to toss them into the ocean before they die.
The pelagic red crabs (aka Pleuroncodes planipes) have appeared sporadically throughout the year, washing up in the hundreds of thousands from Huntington Beach to San Diego. The likely culprit is El Niño, which is providing a northern passage of warm water from the species’ typical home in Baja California. The ongoing El Niño might go down as one of the stronger ones in history; some are saying it could push 2015 to becoming the hottest year in known history.
Those who were in Los Angeles in 1998, around the time of another El Niño, might recall another crabby infestation overtaking the beaches. Then, they were so copious that local birds gorging on them became too obese to fly. Wrote the L.A. Times:
In yet another manifestation of El Nino, scores of pudgy brown ducks are gorging themselves on the swarms of tiny red crabs swept north by this season's unusual ocean currents.
The fowl flutter their wings, they scoot hurriedly along the water's surface, they appear to be taking off and . . .
The birds, known as surf scoters, simply can't lift their heavy bodies into the air.
Never fear that today’s birds are also swelling up and becoming slow, delicious meals for sharks and falcons. According to a marine biologist the Times interviewed, they “usually regurgitate what they ate if they're disturbed.”
Tiny red crabs washed up on the beach in Corona Del Mar. pic.twitter.com/Yh9jeudggY— Gautam Trivedi (@Gotham3) June 16, 2015