By Dave Sigworth, publicist of The Maritime Aquarium
While you were snug and warm in your beds on a few recent rainy nights, a few hardy dedicated souls were out doing the wet sandy chilly soggy work of science.
All in the name of an animal that’s been around since the days of the dinosaurs.
On the night of May 24th and in the wee early hours of May 25th – and again June 7 & 8th – dozens of volunteers turned out to help staff from The Maritime Aquarium tag horseshoe crabs at Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk.
Those nights/mornings were selected because the new and full phases of the spring moon are when horseshoe crabs come up onto beaches in their annual mating ritual. With rare access to so many horseshoe crabs, that’s a tagging bonanza time. Lots of volunteers are needed to help.
The beach taggings are part of a census of horseshoe crabs in Long Island Sound being led by Dr. Jennifer Mattei of Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. Dr. Mattei’s census is establishing a baseline crab population and will reveal migrations and any changes in numbers or behaviors. The data is needed because horseshoe crab eggs are an important food source for migrating shorebirds. If the horseshoe crab population declined, that could mean fewer birds.
The Maritime Aquarium is assisting with the census – by leading beach taggings and also by tagging all horseshoe crabs brought onboard our research vessel during our Marine Life Study Cruises (at 1 p.m. Saturdays in June and then daily in July & August).
Before this spring’s beach taggings, nearly 100 volunteers attended training sessions with the Aquarium’s Joe Schnierlein to learn about horseshoe crabs, the census and how to correctly attach the census tags. That’s the biggest turnout we’ve ever had – thank you, volunteers!
Tropical rains made conditions for both the May 24-25 and the June 7-8 taggings less than ideal. But Joe and the hardy volunteers tagged 228 horseshoe crabs the first weekend, and 125 the next. (Special kudos to some gung-ho Girl Scouts from Darien.)
Joe and the volunteers will be out there again June 22-23 and really reallydeserve delightful weather.
There’s still a way for you to participate: if you’re at the beach and see a horseshoe crab with a tag, note the tag number and call the phone number listed on the tag (1-888-LIMULUS). You’ll get a call back with a few questions about when and where you found the crab. Or you can report the find online at www.fws.gov/crabtag.