Category Archives: Red Tuna Crabs

No Doubt


red pelagic crab, red tuna crab, laguna beach

Red Pelagic Crab Laguna Beach

There is no doubt as it relates to the presence of an El Nino affecting Southern California ocean waters.  Two years of ocean temperatures warm enough to wear trunks and a rash guard into December, two venomous yellow bellied sea snakes washed up on Southern California Beaches, increased shark activity along the shore including incidents with Hammerhead and Great White Sharks, incredible fishing, rare whale sightings and the the second coming of red pelagic crabs in Laguna Beach are all evidence of warm waters driven by El Nino.

We have had a lot of weather so far this year.  According to Irvine rain totals as of 2:00 pm 2015 rainfall totals measured in Irvine, California are at 6.49 inches and climbing as a slow and steady storm blankets Southern California with rain.  We have already surpassed rain totals from 2014 in Irvine, and with 4.79 inches of rain falling in 2015 for Laguna there is no doubt that we have blown by last year’s totals on what should be a wetter than normal year.  While we can expect Laguna Beach to have more rain than last year, El Nino’s wettest months tend to be January and February.  This means that while we will surpass 2014’s rainfall totals but won’t power past the 14.39 inch average annual rainfall for Laguna Beach in the calendar year.  Expect 2016 rainfall totals to be a higher than average rain year and to reflect the El Nino everyone now seems to agree is happening.

Powerful storms have also slammed the coast with dangerous waves and tidal surges causing flooding events.  The Ventura pier took a beating with 20 foot waves that took several bites out of it and causing it’s closure.  Some of the images that have come from that wave event show large waves swallowing a decent portion of the pier.  They will keep the pier closed at least through winter to assess the damage and make plans for putting it back together.  I have been predicting that this would be a year that piers would come down with the projected El Nino and the waves that typically come with the storms associated with this weather condition.  Let’s all hope that Huntington Beach, San Clemente and the piers of San Diego don’t endure a similar fate.  If this early season is any indication of what to come, they could be in trouble.  OC Beach Park maintenance workers have momentarily won the battle with tides and waves pushing sand into the parking lot.  This could be a year where waves are consistently in the parking lot which does put accessibility for beach visitors in question as Aliso Beach suffers from the determination of Mother Ocean when she is stirred up by El Nino driven storms.

My Laguna friend Gracie Wellsfry sent me a photo of a Red Pelagic Tuna Crab which normally lives at sea and calls tropical waters south of us home.  You may recall that shores along Balboa in Newport Beach were covered in a half foot of crabs earlier this year in a rare event along the Southern California Coast.  As far as I can remember, this is only the second red pelagic crab event that I have seen with the last one occurring in the 1990’s while body boarding at Manhattan Beach.  2 incidents in one calendar year is both unexpected and something I can’t recall ever happening.  You will enjoy the picture Gracie took from Laguna Beach and a red pelagic crab comfortably resting in a muscle shell.


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Red Tuna Crabs


With red tuna crabs washing up all over beaches in Southern California from Huntington Beach to San Diego, I am learning more about the fascinating red creatures that are washing up in massive numbers at Aliso Beach in Laguna,  Orange, San Diego and Los Angeles County Beaches.. The shocking story and pictures today from Laylan Connelly of the Orange County Register related to the blankets of doomed crabs piled high on the Balboa Shoreline are incredible.  Exaggerating I would like to tell you that you would be walking through crabs waist deep on the shoreline but the truth is the layers of them on the beach were significant enough to blot out the sand color with reddish orange while carrying an unwanted  fishy stench that turned the stomach of my favorite OC beach lifestyle and sports reporter who is expecting her second child.  She is a real trooper and I have enjoyed her writing style and articles for years.


Red Tuna Crab Aliso Beach, Red Crab Invasion Laguna Beach

Seen Better Days

When I first looked for information on these red tuna crabs, I probably didn’t dig enough.  In asking Laylan questions on Facebook today, I realized that no one had really gotten to the bottom of how they got to the beach. It seems they show up every so often when we have warmer waters in Southern California coinciding with an El Nino weather pattern.  They spend much of their time off of Southern Baja and the Gulf in warmer conditions and feed on plankton in the ocean water column from the floor to the surface.They apparently trap plankton on their legs to feed and my assumption from what I read is that they will follow the warm water and plankton that shows up in more temperate conditions.  Following the warm water and food, they are no match for the onshore winds, currents and waves of Southern California.  Their fates are basically sealed by the conditions they experience in our waters and the little guys are powerless to swim back home and avoid washing up.  Once they find themselves in our waters they are either picked off by local marine life and coastal birds or they end up on the beach.  We have seen a lot of them on local shores here in Southern California by no fault of their own.

Laylan remarked in her comment to me that she found it odd that they came up Newport Harbor and beached themselves in Balboa.  This is one of the greater concentrations of red tuna crabs coming ashore that we have seen.  You gotta see Laylan’s story and picture to understand the magnitude and numbers of crabs on the beach.  It is insane and although I have seen them before in the late 90’s in the water and on the beach at El Porto in Manhattan Beach, that experience did not hold a candle to what Balboa saw.  With predominant afternoon onshore winds, home owners along the shore of Balboa are in for a fishy smell lingering over them as the wind pushes the unpleasant odor of dying crabs over their neighborhood.  Until someone cleans them up, it is what it is.  I am sure they will though no one knows when the new arrivals will stop.  When you look at the piles on the beach it is hard not to believe there just can’t be anymore.

Their demise and presence on Orange County Beaches are not all bad.  They will feed the local sea bird population including California Brown Pelicans and perhaps most notably the scavengers of the Southern California Coastline known as seagulls.  Seagulls have been noted to stuff their bellies so full of these things that they can’t fly. These birds are known for thieving food from unsuspecting beach visitors, picking half eaten food scraps out of trash cans and scavenging at local garbage dumps so I am sure these lobster-like crabs are a real treat.  I would be worried their snowy white, gray and brown feathers somehow turn the reddish orange of the crabs they snack on.  The red invaders are also known to be snacks for seals and sea lions which is a good thing considering local populations have struggled finding solid food sources with the arrival of warm water pushing their favored fish food north in search of nutrients found in the upwelling of colder water and currents. Grey Whales, blue whales, sharks, rays and tuna all find the red crabs favorable snacks and food sources. With the drone that is monitoring Juvenile Great White Shark Activity and capturing footage of 10-12 sharks close to shore, I wonder if the presence of the red tuna crabs is what is driving their presence in shallow waters up at Surfside Beach between Huntington and Seal Beach.  The theory of the red tuna crabs attracting sharks as they near shore lends credibility to their recent close proximity to wave riders, swimmers and the beach. Something to think about for sure.  

Hopefully the red tuna crab invasion subsides or county and city workers may remain busy cleaning up the mess that the little creatures never intended to deliver as they lie on Southern California Beaches in layers as deep as a couple of inches.  I think we have seen enough!

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