Tiny red crabs wash up on Orange County shores

Red tuna crabs cover the beach below Cleo Street in Laguna Beach on Friday. Thousands of them have washed ashore in Orange County in the past week.
(Bryce Alderton / Daily Pilot)

Red tuna crabs have again littered stretches of the Orange County coastline, from Huntington Beach south to Laguna Beach, but lifeguards said the public was not endangered and the beaches remained open.

Lifeguards in Newport Beach said they’ve seen hordes of the crabs washing ashore since Wednesday.

On Friday morning, battalion Chief Mike Halphide said he could look out the window near the Newport Pier and see hundreds of the tiny creatures — most, if not all, of them dead.


“We’ve got just a slew of red crabs at the high tide line,” he said.

Red tuna crabs such as these in Laguna Beach also have washed up this week in Newport Beach and Huntington Beach.
(Bryce Alderton / Daily Pilot)

In Laguna Beach, marine safety Lt. Kai Bond said he saw the salmon-colored critters, about 1 to 3 inches long, scattered across portions of the southern tip of Main Beach and along beaches in the Sleepy Hollow area.

“We see this periodically throughout the year,” Bond said. “They move offshore and have come back in recent days.”

In Huntington Beach, thousands of crabs settled on the sand north of Goldenwest Street and along the tidal inland area of Bolsa Chica State Beach earlier this week, said Lt. Claude Panis, who is with that city’s marine safety division.

“It happens every now and then,” Panis said. “It seems to go hand-in-hand with El Niño. I think it could be related to the different currents we have going on right now. It was just a fun little event for us.”

Marine experts have speculated that warmer ocean temperatures could be causing the crabs to wash ashore more frequently. Currents pushed groups of crabs ashore at least twice in 2015.

Crabs primarily inhabit the west coast of Baja California and the Gulf of California and spend the majority of the year hiding on sandy ocean bottoms.

Seal Beach resident Lauren Cavalia, 22, decided to walk to the beach below Cleo Street in Laguna after breakfast Friday morning, only to find the crabs dotting the sand. A few of them squirmed, but many remained motionless.

“I was shocked,” Cavalia said. “I had no idea that this kind of thing happened. It’s so sad.”

Staff writers Jeremiah Dobruck and Brittany Woolsey contributed to this report.