Stay Eat Events Weather Beaches

Another Oregon / Washington Coast Oddity: Bundles of Crab Shells on Beaches

Published 06/25/21 at 2:15 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Another Oregon / Washington Coast Oddity: Bundles of Crab Shells on Beaches

(Oregon Coast) – Like clockwork they show up this time of year on the Oregon and Washington coastlines: bunches of crab shells that look like some massive die-off. You'll even see the legs and other parts appearing to be intact. It often alarms visitors, but it's a harmless natural event. In fact, it's good for the crabs. (Photos courtesy Seaside Aquarium)

Latest Coastal Lodging News Alerts
In Seaside:
Includes exclusive listings; major specials now that winter is here
In Cannon Beach:
Includes rentals not listed anywhere else
In Manzanita, Wheeler, Rockaway Beach:
major specials for winter
In Pacific City, Oceanside:
Winter's enticing specials now
In Lincoln City:
Major winter specials now
In Depoe Bay, Gleneden Beach:
major specials this season
In Newport:
Look for many specials
In Waldport
New amenities offered; specials and tempting prices now
In Yachats, Florence
Big deals available; lodgings not listed anywhere else
Southern Oregon Coast Hotels / Lodgings
Reedsport to Brookings, places to stay; winter deals

Those crabs are not deceased – they've simply left the building. Their shells are empty because it's molting season for the female Dungeness crab. Late in the summer you'll see it again but at that time it's the male Dungeness that vacate their premises. In August, you'll see even more of them.

Science calls it crab exuvia, according to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). Essentially, they've shed their shells and are getting ready to grow new ones.

“It can look like a major disaster occurred to the crab population, but it's as natural as kids outgrowing their old shoes,” ODFW said.

Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium deals with this each time, explaining it to visitors and educating on social media. She said this does not happen onshore, on the beach. Instead, they wriggle out of their shells out there in the deep.

“Discarded crab shells settle on the ocean floor until strong currents wash them ashore,” she said. “Molted crab shells have all the external parts intact - including legs, antennae, eyes, and gill supports, which makes it difficult to tell whether or not you are looking at a dead crab or just a molt.”

Though it's the Dungeness crab, before you start drooling over the idea of a free dinner scooped up off the beach, you won't find any meat in there. This is simply the exoskeleton parts and the shells.

Boothe said the crab’s new shell is soft and flexible. All this time it’s been developing while the crab was fasting before this point.

“The crab expands its new shell by filling its body cavity with water,” she said. “During this time, the crab is extremely vulnerable to predators and will bury itself in the sand to avoid detection. Once the crab’s shell starts to harden (which can take several days), the crab will resume feeding. Soon the crab will consume enough food to restore its fat reserves and replace the excess water in its shell with muscle. Then the cycle starts all over again.”

Reports have been popping up all over the Oregon coast, from the southern areas down around Bandon or Nesika up to Manzanita and beyond. These finds are currently accompanied by other sightings of a particular kind of salp that has visitors puzzled right now, as well as egg casings from squids, which show up as clusters of white tubes.

West winds always blow the largest number of things onto beaches, but there's likely not a lot of those winds now with the upcoming heatwave or the valley would be a little cooler.

Oregon Coast Hotels for this event - South Coast Hotels - Where to eat - Maps - Virtual Tours


More About Oregon Coast hotels, lodging.....

More About Oregon Coast Restaurants, Dining.....

Coastal Spotlight

LATEST Related Oregon Coast Articles

Fiery Scottish / Irish Christmas Show Comes to South Oregon Coast's Coos Bay
A sizzling blend of Celtic cultures in music happens Dec 16. South coast events
Central Oregon Coast's Florence Holiday Festival Expands, with Gnomes, Lighte...
December 3: new additions to the festival, one starts Black Friday. Florence events
Spectacular Geminid Meteor Showers Coming to Oregon Coast, Washington Coast
Perfect conditions may yield as many as 120 fireballs per hour
South Oregon Coast's Hughes House Christmas Returns to Port Orford
Christmas Tea on Dec 17, 18 - Tours Dec 22, 23 and 26. South coast events
Recreational Crabbing Banned on South Oregon Coast; Commercial Season Delayed
The marine toxin domoic acid is high in crab. Weather
Small Quake Rattles Off South Oregon Coast, 112 Miles from Bandon
It struck off Friday morning, clocking in at a magnitude 4.5. Geology
Get Ready for Wild(ish?) King Tides on Oregon Coast, Washington Coast
First round starts November 24 - 26, and it may or not be big. Weather
Two Little Ghost Towns on S. Oregon Coast Near Bandon: History of Prosper, Ra...
At one time, they were bustling ports, filled with workers, ships

Back to Oregon Coast

Contact Advertise on
All Content, unless otherwise attributed, copyright Unauthorized use or publication is not permitted