Environmental Creatures

Contradictions seem predominant in our ocean these days with the appreciable influx of bass in areas of Nantucket Sound and, on a less favorable note, the massive die off of horseshoe crabs strewn along many of the beaches over the past weeks.

Various opinions have ensued in regard to the die off.  One seasoned fishermen from Nantucket insists it is part of a "normal cycle" to see voliminous amounts of the crabs washed ashore dead while others have agreed that the amount of them this year is similar to the huge die off experienced in 2010 on the Cape... and not a normal amount.

Added to this, much of the public is confusing the dead crabs to be molted crabs and not reporting this to anyone. When the horseshoe crab molts, all you see lying on the shoreline is the empty shell encasement, not the shell replete with the entire organs of the crab.

Several speculations have been made as to the cause of the die off.  One of them is that the horseshoe crabs which have been bled for their blood for medical use and then returned to the sea are in a weakened position and cannot survive.

Others vehementally rebuke this theory, insisting that the die off is being created by something else.  One suggestion is that overall nitrate levels are high enough along our shorelines to decrease the necessary oxygen for the crabs.

Yet another theory is that we are seeing the long term affect of the large amounts of oil dispersants that were used to contain the Gulf oil spill several years ago.  Many believe that the poisons in the dispersants  would enter the entire food chain of the sea, producing detrimental affects over time.

And there is also the theory that  climate changes have altered the salinity of the ocean and that, combined with pollutants in the sea, no longer support the necessary ocean environment for the crabs.

Finally, others like the Nantucket fishermen, insist that it is just a normal part of a cycle of the crabs to be killed in the heavy surf and washed ashore.

But whatever the cause, it is a point of concern to walk along the beach and see mounds and mounds of these venerable creatures who have endured for thousands of years to be piled up on the sand like casualities of war.

And, as someone who has walked this particular beach since a child, I have never witnessed such a heavy die off.

I am presenting the case to several horseshoe crab study groups, one of whom is in Woods Hole Oceanographic, hopefully to give them some sense of what might be going on.

I would suggest that anyone else witnessing massive die offs of the crabs contact Woods Hole and report it to the department which deals with this subject matter.

Keeping in mind that the crabs could be yet another canary in the coal mine that we ought not ignore.

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