Visitors to Laguna Beach, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach this weekend had bright red company on the sand.
Thousands of red tuna crabs washed ashore Sunday in Orange and San Diego counties stretching from Huntington Beach south to San Clemente, repeating a phenomenon experts say occurs with warmer ocean temperatures.
The critters beached before in Newport and Laguna but Sunday's activity in Huntington was unusual, said Marine Safety Lt. Michael Beuerlein, who had not seen a similar occurrence in 34 years with the city.
"There were thousands of them near the pier area, probably from tower one to tower six," Beuerlein said. "They flopped up on the shore and they were alive, and then they weren't."
The animals, known as pelagic red crabs, washed ashore on most Laguna beaches, Marine Protection Officer Jeremy Frimond said.
The crabs, which are 1 to 3 inches long, are not a threat to humans.
"Once they are on the sand their lifecycle has typically come to an end," Frimond said. "However, some may still move slightly as their death is not instant once beached.
"These animals move with ocean currents. Sporadically these currents point the animals inshore and the result is what we have been seeing on our beaches the past few days."
Some beachgoers in Newport took the crabs home and cooked them, while seagulls and crows feasted on the dead animals, Newport lifeguard battalion Chief Brent Jacobsen said.
"I heard they were pretty salty," Jacobsen said.
A similar event occurred in January when thousands of the red crabs appeared on Newport beaches. According to a Daily Pilot article from that incident, the 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.
Newport Beach lifeguards spotted crabs in the water in Newport Harbor and along stretches of Corona del Mar State Beach, Little Corona and by the Wedge Sunday morning, but nothing like the amount that washed ashore in January, Jacobsen said.
Southern California Marine Institute Director Daniel Pondella II 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."