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More Rarities: Another Squid, Massive Dead Crab Strandings on Oregon Coast

Published 08/12/2018 at 6:01 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection Staff

More Rarities: Another Squid, Massive Dead Crab Strandings on Oregon coast

(Oregon Coast) – More strange finds on the Oregon coast this week: yet another rare squid and massive amount of crabs were found on the beaches lately. (Photos courtesy Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium).

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A whole lotta dead Dungeness crabs are washing up as of late, and it has some a little concerned.

Some of it is just the usual crab molting that happens right about now: beaches this time of year can be flooded with the empty shells of crabs that have shed their outer layer as part of their normal growth process.

But many of the crabs are simply dead carcasses, with their meaty bodies still inside the shells. It’s an unusually large amount of them: just about every beach on the Oregon coast is strewn with hundreds of them, sometimes thousands.

The culprit is a simple upwelling. This is when cold water gets churned up suddenly by a certain set of weather conditions and it brings up gobs of things from the bottom. This is definitely responsible for all the crabs washing up.

However, are there more dead crabs than usual? Is something causing them to die off in bigger numbers, or is it just that the ocean bottom got scoured a bit more than usual?

Cannon Beach’s Haystack Rock Awareness Program thinks it is an unusual amount of dead bodies mixed in with the molts, according to their Facebook posts. They believe it’s quite possible there’s a bigger die-off than usual.

There is evidence this is just a normal upwelling event and not a die-off, however. Seaside Aquarium education specialist Tiffany Boothe said she has found lots of other things as well.

“Along with the dead crabs we are also seeing a lot of tube worm casings, mole crab molts, and hatched out snail eggs,” she said.

Keith Chandler, manager of Seaside Aquarium, thinks a larger-than-usual die-off is possible but not likely.

“It’s just something that happens every once in awhile,” he said.

Meanwhile, other marine scientists have yet to weigh in.

What is happening for sure, however, is that the bodies are creating a feast for local gulls and other birds.

Boothe said you can tell the difference between a molt and a simple dead crab – but you may not be able to for long as the bodies are getting picked clean.

“So how do you tell if the crab is dead or just a molt?,” she said. “Break open one of its legs. If there is meat inside it is a dead crab, if not then it is just a molt.”

Just what is an upwelling?

“The north winds cause cold water upwellings, and that makes stuff rise off the bottom,” Chandler said. “West winds bring in things that are floating on top of the water. Things come up from the bottom when north winds blow in.”

According to NOAA, upwellings are caused by winds blowing across the ocean surface, which then pushes water away and cause water from below to flow upwards. That water is always colder as well. It brings nutrients to the top, but it also creates an upward current that stirs up stuff from the bottom.

So why is it only north winds cause upwellings and not south winds? Colby Neuman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Portland said it has to do with the direction that winds move water – which isn’t quite as intuitive as you think.

“When winds blow across the water, it tends to move the water to the right,” Neuman said. “So if it’s the north wind, it’s pulling water away from the coast.”

Another key here is that the waters are warmer some 50 miles out, close to 70 degrees. Closer to shore, the waters are much colder. So if north winds come in and blow water off the top and to the right, it’s moving only colder water around.

Conversely, southern winds do the opposite, he said. They pull water to the right as well, which means they bring in warmer waters.

Meanwhile, the Seaside Aquarium saw its second rarity in two weeks: yet another robust clubhook squid (Onykia robusta). This one was found in Neskowin in the last week.

Seaside Aquarium discovered one two weeks ago just south of Cannon Beach: a real rarity because no one on their crew had ever seen one wash up on the Oregon coast before.

The squid in Cannon Beach was about ten feet long. The Neskowin creature was about nine feet (see photo below). Oregon Coast Lodgings for this event - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour

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The clubhook squid that washed ashore in Neskowin, photo courtesy Debi Tribe.

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