Lately, the sands of some of the beaches in California have turned an unusual shade of salmon pink. Small tuna crabs, also known as pelagic red crabs, that are commonly found in shallow waters near Baja, California and Mexico are invading coasts as far north as Monterey Bay.
In the video recorded in October 2015, a diver shoots a peaceful, brilliant orange sunset, the camera bobbing with the gentle ebb and flow of the current. But, (as the music intensifies) it’s soon revealed that the diver is swimming over a massive boon of red crabs. At the 1:17-mark, one red crab is even seen clinging to the diver’s head.
These baby lobster look-alikes are no bigger than three inches in length. But, unlike lobsters, you wouldn’t want to eat them—their primary diet consists of phytoplankton, which can be toxic.
The crustacean, its species name Pleuroncodes planipes translating to “bulgy-sided crab with flat feet,” is agile in the water. The footage captures the red crabs jetting off backwards and upwards by flexing their powerful abdomens and tail fans. When they reach the water’s surface you can see them stop and stretch out their legs, turning their bodies into parachutes to slowly drift downwards and catch any phytoplankton in their mouthparts.
Marine scientists believe that the current abundance of pelagic red crabs in California is due to the flow of warm ocean currents from the El Niño, reports CBS Bay Area News. Waters in Monterey are 10 degrees warmer than normal, causing native species to shift farther north. These conditions are harsh on the red crabs, which aren’t getting enough food, oxygen, or the cooler temperatures they need to survive.
As a result, beaches have become a bloodbath of red crabs. A visitor on Del Monte Beach in Monterey told CBS Bay Area News in May that the scene looked like a “battlefield of crabs.” In early October, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary was carpeted in thousands of red crab bodies. Most of the crabs that have been washing up from Mexico are already dead and decaying, and those that are alive struggle to get back into the tide.
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