Crab meat is a delicacy, and Alaska is one of the most well-populated crab fisheries in the world. Unfortunately, the harvest season in Alaska has been canceled because the crabs that are usually there have gone missing this season. In this article, we’ll examine what happened to them and what it could mean for Alaska.
So, What Happened to the Crabs?
They all died. According to research from the NOAA, a marine heatwave hit Alaska during the off-season, raising the ocean’s temperatures significantly. Scientists believe this might be due to global climate change as temperatures of ocean waters increase. The increasing temperature was terrible news for the crabs.
It’s not that the warm waters killed the crabs, though. Alaskan snow crabs have very resilient systems and can live in water ranging from 2 degrees to 12 degrees without being too concerned. However, increased temperatures mean that they require more energy, which means they have to eat more. This warm spell suggested the crabs needed four times their normal food intake.
Warm Waters Means More Competition Too
In the cold waters of the Bering Sea, the crabs would have an excellent habitat that housed their food and kept a constant low temperature where they could thrive. The warm water that shocked the crabs came from a warmer-than-normal summer melt, which limited the amount of sea ice in the region.
Typically, the crabs would have enough food for their survival over the long term. However, as the area warmed up, it became a more attractive habitat for other species, especially fish. These fish would feed on the same sort of food as the crabs and were far more active in hunting. They simply out-competed the crabs, leading to starvation.
How Did We Find Out What Happened?
The first step in solving the mystery of the crabs is to consider if they left. Crab migration isn’t unheard of. If the temperatures where they lived got too warm for them, they could just walk along the sea floor until they found somewhere a little more inviting. Unfortunately, the data told a different story.
The scientists looked at collected readings on the population of crabs and even ventured further out to see from the shelf to see if they’d moved to deeper water. According to Cody Szuwalski, lead author of the NOAA study, they “ultimately concluded that it was unlikely that the crabs moved, and that the mortality event is probably a big driver.”
Faster Warming to Blame
The Alaskan ocean warming isn’t just a coincidence either. Recent studies suggest that the ocean in the Bering Sea, where the crabs live, is warming as much as four times as fast as the rest of the planet. Scientists suggest that ice coverage in this part of the ocean is down to 4% of the usual amount.
Sea warming is happening all over the world, and it’s having untold effects on animal populations. Change in habitat temperatures means that these animals no longer have a place to live. Scientists involved in the study think that the crabs will start migrating north. However, it will be a while before their population recovers.
An Important Industry In Ruins
Aside from over ten billion crabs dead, their unavailability has led to the closure of at least one crab fishery. Alaskan fisheries are significant contributors to the state’s economy. On average, the crabs bring in around $150 million, but in 2021-2022, that number fell to $24 million.
Even if the populations recover, it’s unlikely they’ll get to their previous levels. Some estimates put 2010 as the highest population of crabs in the region. That massive population led to many thinking that the fisheries were recovering. The marine heat wave was quite a setback for the crabs and the fishermen.
How Does The Industry Adapt?
Studying the snow crab disaster and how they respond can hold a lot of information for us on how humans can adapt to climate change. Unfortunately, some things are highly unpredictable, like the warmer water in Alaska. Yet, in the midst of this death, there is hope.
The death of snow crabs in Alaska highlights the devastating impacts of ocean warming on marine life and the ripple effects on local economies and global ecosystems. It’s not an isolated event, either. With the oceans warming the way it is, there are other disasters that we may notice before too long in waters around the world.
The Jellyfish Apocalypse Might Also be Coming
Thanks to increased global temperatures, warmer winters, and warmer summers, the rest of the world might have another problem brewing. As these temperatures rise, they provide the perfect habitat for jellyfish. Scientists have noted that jellyfish have been thriving in warmer, polluted water.
The death of the crabs underscores an alarming fact that the earth may be going through an extinction period, thanks to the rising global temperatures. With up to one million species threatened with extinction, there’s no telling which ones will survive. And with jellyfish swarming the oceans, it’s not a good time for us either.
Some Hope For Recovery
The population of crabs may have lost over a billion individuals, but there is still a tiny amount of them trying to keep the species alive. If they start moving to the north, into cooler waters, they stand a really good chance of recovering and even thriving, at least until another warm marine wave hits the area.
The warming isn’t just threatening the crabs either. Many Alaskan species are finding it harder and harder to survive as food stocks dwindle and icy shores become uncovered in extended spring thaws. You’d better enjoy your Alaskan Snow Crab delicacies now since they might not be around for too much longer.