Every May and June, the Delaware Bay draws biologists and nature lovers to the beach as voyeurs of a massive mating spectacle.
Every May and June, the Delaware Bay draws biologists and nature lovers to the beach as voyeurs of a massive mating spectacle. Horseshoe crabs crawl ashore by the hundreds of thousands to fertilize and lay eggs. This year also produced a surge in interested volunteers, there to help the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control count the animals.
Kerry Grens of WHYY’s health and science desk tagged along. She filed this report, including the voices of Smyrna Middle School Teacher and veteran volunteer Jim Hewes, and DNREC Coastal Program Coordinator, Kelly Valencik.
Valencik: We are out on the Ted Harvey Conservation Wildlife Conservation Area, Bay Beach. And the water is right there (laughs). And we can already see some crabs up on the beach over there, so hopefully we’ll have a good number to count here tonight.
Valencik: You can see the female is in the middle there. And there’s one, two, three…17 males around her. So yeah, it’s a big cluster there. And then right next to her it looks like there’s another female with more males around her too. Just the same number. Huge number of crabs on the beach tonight. It’s awesome to see.
Volunteer: It’s five of, what do you say we get started?
Hewes: After our first count we move 20 meters down in our individual grid so we get a randomized location and wherever we stop at our 20 count we put our grid down and we count only the crabs within that grid at that specific time and we work our way from the north end of the beach to the south until we run out of beach basically.
Hewes: Seven males, two females.
Hewes: We’re one of the only areas in the world where you get such a high level of crab population. And the shore birds coming up to rest and refuel. It’s an intricate part. When you find out that Delaware and New Jersey hold such a key to so many different species that migrate from the southern parts of South America to northern Canada makes you realize that your little piece actually has a big impact.