One of my favorite places to go for a brief get-away from the city is Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica. At the north end are rocks where, at low tide, you can see living starfish, mussels, sea urchins, pretty mother-of pearl shells, olive shells, limpets, and tons of tiny little hermit crabs running around in other creatures’ shells. On our beach strolls, my family and I have often seen crab fishermen posted right along the beach, with their lines in the surf, fishing for Dungeness crabs. If they are under a certain size, they throw them back into the water, because there is a legal size limit to what they can take. It’s not uncommon to see one or two dead crabs along the shore, who, for whatever reason, did not make it back into the water.
But last week, while tide-pooling among the rocks, my daughter and I noticed a dead crab sitting on a rock. It was about 5 inches wide, and had probably been placed there by another beach comber who had found it on the ground. Then, as we started to search for the familiar tide-pool denizens, I noticed another, smaller, dead crab, floating in a tide pool, missing a leg. How sad, I thought. Then my daughter told me that there were a whole bunch of crabs in another tide pool. I went to look, expecting to see hermit crabs, but instead, I was shocked to find dozens of dead Dungeness debris littering the tide.
The other animals seemed alright (except for a maroonish piece of what looked like dead jellyfish that sat on a rock). I saw a part of what looked like a pink star, partly obscured, under a rock. I was heartened to find myriads of my little hermit crab buddies scurrying around in the shallow pools. Lots of opened small mussel shells, iridescent blue and pink inside, evidenced that the seagulls had been eating well.
I am still mystified about the preponderance of crab remains… was there a bumper crop of them that had been frenziedly fished, the plentiful rejects left for the gulls? Or is there something in the water that is toxic to them, killing them off by the dozens?