Practice English Speaking&Listening with: The Little Lobster That Reveals Climate

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Thanks to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for partnering with us

on this episode.

We hope you learn something crabulous!


This beach isnt normally red.

You are looking at tens of thousands of pelagic red crabs

that washed up on the shores of Monterey Bay.

Theyre also known as tuna crabs because tunas love to snack on them,

but these crimson creatures arent really crabs.

Theyre a kind of squat lobstercrab relatives that look like

flattened lobsters with their long tails that curl under their bodies.

And theyre kind of like little red weathermen,

because their presence on the beaches of California

indicates something unusual going on below the waves.

Normally, red crabs are mostly found in the waters off Baja California

a Mexican state that borders the US state of California.

There, they dine on phytoplanktonthose tiny, microscopic marine algae

suspended in the water that weve talked about many times before

as well as any other edible bits they can find.

Once theyre adults, they start to hang out near the bottom

in the benthic zone.

But the larvae, juveniles, and young adult crabs live in the

epipelagic zone, or upper part of the open oceanhence their name.

Of course, pelagic red crabs dont always stay in one spot.

And their movements have been pretty reliably linked

to ocean and climate patterns.

Sometimes, these movements are helpful to the crabs.

Like, theyll move with their food during certain stages of their lives.

Take a 2004 study in the journal Deep Sea Research Part II, for example.

Scientists recorded water temperatures and salinities

at different depths and locations along the Baja California coastline.

That let them map out ocean currents and areas of upwelling

where cooler, food-filled water gets pulled upward

to the warm ocean surface.

Scientists also used sonar and fishing nets to measure

how many red crabs there were.

And they found that there were more crabs

in areas of strong upwelling.

Turns out the pelagic red crabs were moving with the upwelling,

which makes sense since the plankton they eat

flourish in that nutrient-rich water.

Its also no coincidence that the lobstersbreeding season

is right around the time of the year that upwelling normally occurs,

since being able to get more food means healthier breeding adults.

But, the crabs dont get much of a say in where they end up.

The thing about spending quite a bit of your time floating around

in the top layer of ocean is that you can easily get carried away

literally carried away!

The crabs can swim.

Like, sort of.

They propel themselves backwards

by flapping their tails and tucking their legs into their bodies.

But they arent great swimmers, especially when theyre young.

So, they can get swept up in strong ocean currents which carry them

northwards to California and even as far north as Oregon.

And when this happens, hordes of them may wash up on shore.

Youll sometimes find red crabs covering entire beaches!

These mass strandings have been linked to large-scale climate events

like El Niño, where the permanent trade winds that flow

around the equator weaken, which causes warm currents

to flow from South America northward along the California coast.

For example, a study published in 2015 in Fisheries Science

examined the number of red crabs in their usual habitats off the coast

of Baja California six times between October 2004 and March 2007.

And they found that there were more crabs in the area during

cold water La Niña events and fewer during warm water El Niños

because the warm waters were carrying the crabs away from Mexico

and north toward California.

The upside of all this is that washed-up red crabs may be a nice

source of food for seagulls and other hungry predators during

El Niño events, when their usual fare tends to be more scarce.

But the crabs dont just signal El Niños.

Theyre also warning marine biologists and beachgoers alike

of our changing climate.

For example, a study published in 2019 in Scientific Reports

linked the distribution of red crabs with another kind

of ocean pattern: marine heatwaves.

In the winters of 2014 and 2016, areas of the northeast Pacific ocean

warmed to two to four degrees Celsius above normal for months on end,

creating what some people called the warm-water blob.

The blob wreaked havoc on ocean life, killing marine mammals and triggering harmful algal


But it also meant that more than thirty-five species

of marine mammals, fish, seabirds and algae temporarily moved

or got carriednorthward.

That included pelagic red crabs who made it as far north as Newport, Oregon!

These northern shifts might not seem like a big deal now,

but scientists think marine heatwaves and other ocean warming events

are already more frequent than they used to be,

and are going to happen more often due to climate change.

That means coastal animal and plant communities will

likely look really different in the future.

And the red crabs show that changes are already happening,

as strandings are becoming more and more common.

The first recorded one was in 1859, then 1959, 1969, and 1983.

Then, there were a total of eight recorded strandings

between 2015 and 2017 alone.

In a way, these little red crustaceans are acting

as bellwethers for the ocean.

The impressive sight of millions of beached squat lobsters

is a clear signal that our ocean is being altered

one thats far more visceral than, say,

satellite images or temperature readings.

And by studying these little red drifters, scientists can gain

a better sense of how ocean habitats are changing

and what the effects of those changes will be.

Thanks again to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for partnering with us

on this episode of SciShow.

The Aquariums mission is to inspire conservation of the ocean.

So give them a follow on their social media accounts, which are all

extremely worth it, visit their website at

They shore would love to sea you!


The Description of The Little Lobster That Reveals Climate