Thousands of tiny red crabs invade Southern California beaches

Thousands of red tuna crabs washed onto Southern California beaches Sunday, repeating a phenomenon experts say occurs with warmer ocean temperatures.

The critters have beached before in Newport Beach and Laguna Beach but Sunday’s activity in Huntington Beach stood out, said Marine Safety Lt. Michael Beuerlein. He said he hadn’t seen a similar occurrence in his 34 years with the city.

“They flopped up on the shore and they were alive, and then they weren’t,” he told the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot.

The animals, known as pelagic red crabs, are 1 to 3 inches long and do not pose a threat to humans.

“Once they are on the sand their life cycle has typically come to an end,” Marine Protection Officer Jeremy Frimond said. “However, some may still move slightly as their death is not instant once beached.”


The animals move with ocean currents, and occasionally, inshore. So was the case Sunday, when thousands of crabs invaded miles of coastline from Orange to San Diego counties.

Beachgoers in Newport Beach seized the opportunity to snatch up some crab and cook them at home, Newport lifeguard battalion Chief Brent Jacobsen said.

“I heard they were pretty salty,” Jacobsen said.

The tiny red crabs appeared on Newport beaches in January. The crabs spend the majority of the year hiding on sandy ocean bottoms, primarily inhabiting Baja California and the Gulf of California, the Daily Pilot reported.

Daniel Pondella II, director of the Southern California Marine Institute, told the Pilot in January that the crab phenomenon “could just be a sign of the warm water we’re currently experiencing.”

Frimond said the beached crabs are part of nature.

“This might look like a bad day for the red crabs, but it’s a good day for shorebirds who rely on them to survive,” Frimond said. “It’s the ecosystem at work.”

Alderton writes for Times Community News.