All sorts of people wander into the shop on any given day and many of them ask interesting questions and we get into conversations about history, pickin‘ and the North Beach. But recently I was asked an odd question and surprisingly — I knew the answer! A couple came, shopped around and at checkout they asked, “How come there are so many dead crabs all over the beach?” I explained they weren’t dead, it was molting season and the little critters literally walk out of their shell, leaving it behind. They laughed but had never heard of or seen that before.
For those who’ve never heard about molting crabs, it’s probably shocking to see what appears to be tons of dead crabs all the beach — but fear not, it’s perfectly normal for crabs and happens multiple times a year. If all else fails, and you’re not sure if it’s a molting situation of some sort of catastrophe, you have two choices to solve the mystery; poke the shell to see if there’s meat in it, and/or take a big whiff. If there were a plethora of dead crabs all over the beach, trust me, you’d smell it.
Here’s what the Ocean Observer had to say about it in 1972 and as you can see, nothing has changed!
Crab shells on beach aren't kills
Because crabs are enclosed in a rigid exterior skeleton, they can grow only by shedding their shells. This molting takes place about seven times during the first year of bottom life, and decelerating rate in subsequent years. Reported crab kills at the ocean beaches are usually only molted shells that may wash up in the thousands. Because even the coverings of the eye stalks and kills are left with the molted shells, they are easily mistaken for dead crabs. Positive identification is made by determining whether the splitting line has ruptured to allow the new shelled crab to back out, or by the presence of or absence of meat in the crab. Odor will be absent on a molten shell, but nothing smells much worse than a crab that has been dead for several days.
Have fun, stay safe and beware of the “dead” crabs all over the beach! -Sooz