Pleuroncodes planipes…. better know as pelagic red crabs or tuna crabs have been washing ashore by the thousands lately here in Southern California. Last week on our trip out to Santa Cruz island a fiery red blanket of crabs covered the beach. These red crabs have been known to make an appearance here in our waters every six to ten years, but I personally can’t ever remember seeing them while growing up.
Tuna crabs normally inhabit the warmer waters along the lower west coast of Baja California and spend most of their life hiding in sand on the ocean floor. In the spring they normally travel in dense schools and unfortunately sometimes wash ashore. This year they have schooled north following the warm water brought up by El Nino from the equator. It’s currently an El Nino year in the central and eastern Pacific, meaning the ocean temperature is warmer than normal, which can cause dramatic effects on weather patterns and rainfall. The warmer waters also brings with it species unusual to the area, in years past we’ve seen increases in mahi mahi, swordfish, marlin, yellowtail, bonito, trigger fish, even sperm whales and hammerhead sharks.
NOAA researchers spectate that El Nino will stick around through winter, so who knows what else we will see this year!
At first glance, the crabs almost look like shrimp or mini lobster. They are about three to four inches long, have three small legs on each side of their bodies and two pinchers in front. They even have segmented tails causing them to swim backward.
On our sail out to Santa Cruz we saw so much life in the channel near the oil platforms. We even passed by the platform Josh works on and he mentioned how earlier in the week the water around the rig was swarming with the red crabs, along with all the sea lions, birds, dolphins and whales consuming them.