Friday, October 28, 2011

Dress up for Crabday!

Halloween is SO CLOSE (can you tell I love this holiday?) and I have my costume all picked out. You know who else is dressed and ready to go? This Crabday's special crab:

The Decorator Crab
Oregonia gracilis

tiny decorator crab: "Hello from the Pribilofs!"

There are several species with the common name 'decorator crab', but I wanted to focus on the 'graceful decorator crab' Oregonia gracilis because it's an Alaskan local. Decorator crabs like to attach whatever is around them on their backs and legs for camouflage costume ideas.

For example, this crab wants to be a sponge for Halloween:

see the hairs on his carapace and legs?
that's where he attaches his bling!

This crab wants to be red algae (or maybe a Spartan from 300??):

"Prepare for glory!"

Now, decorator crabs don't just decorate themselves for camouflage Halloween; some of the plants/animals they stick to themselves have toxins or chemical defenses that help protect the crab from predation.

Either way (camo or chemical defense), it's pretty entertaining to watch these guys dress themselves. Greg Albrecht (former snow crab student) recorded this fellow dressing up and shared it before, but it's worth a second view:

Have a Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Halloween Inspiration

Halloween is coming up and you know what that means: more opportunities to crab it up!

I need this in Molly-size for the next time
I go pumpkin picking (from here)

You may remember the crab-dog from this post, but that pup was not alone:

she's clearly enjoying this more than he is

oh beagle, you make my day!
(disclaimer: this is a lobster-dog, not a crab dog)

Crabs aren't just for the dogs; these geniuses made amazing crab-o-lanterns!
this is just one of several awesome stencils

this pumpkin takes the cake! (or pie?)
I love the details!

Jen, creator of the second crabby pumpkin, also used the king crab template from here to make Halloween-themed crab pods:

Have you made any crab pods? Send 'em my way!

Alright, that's a lot of inspiration, but I'll leave you with one more, just for the humans:


You're welcome!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

It's my birthday and I'll crab if I want to

My sister Amelia (she has a blog too!) sent me this video for my birthday today:

For anyone planning a crab-themed birthday, check out these sweet treats for inspiration:

sweet pink crabs for a little girl's birthday/crab boil

a tasty Thank You

crabs add that nautical touch to a little boy's party

I love the crab drawing that ties all the treats together! 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Alaska Day and Oil Spills

Happy (Belated) Alaska Day! It was on October 18th, so I'm a little late (again), but I hope everyone had a great day and a great week celebrating the 49th state! What did you do? I graded salmon and rockfish skeletons for how accurately each bone was identified (I'm TA-ing Ichthyology over at UAS)!

Since this Alaska Day is so close to the 18 month anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (which occurred April 20, 2010), and Alaskans know a thing or two about the lasting effects of oil spills, I thought it'd be interesting to check in on how the Gulf of Mexico crustacean populations are doing today. Just because, you know, this happened:

a ghost crab on the shore line (picture from this photographer)

a dead blue crab floating in some oil

a little hermit crab trying to make its way through the muck

So what's happening now? A lot of the oil has been consumed by microbes (go microbes!) but there's still a layer of oil and ashes from the burned oil on swaths of the Gulf of Mexico sediment (via a report from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, funded by BP). This layer could affect any benthic animal, like, say a crab, who may walk around and dig through the oil layer to forage for food. That foraging behavior was also a concern in Prince William Sound after the Exxon Valdez oil spill: researchers were worried about sea otters digging in the sediment for their prey and, in the process, dispersing the settled oil throughout the water column and onto themselves.

a ghost crab amid the oil, glowing under UV light
(to help with clean-up and all... the light, that is... not the crab)

Lingering oil may affect growth, reproduction, and ultimately survival, but Gulf of Mexico fisheries continue as long as the animals are deemed safe for consumption. It may be tricky to estimate spawning biomass for subsequent stocks, since there's little background data available about the spawning habits of crabs and shrimp around the Gulf, and so much is unknown about potential effects of oil on their reproductive physiology, but we'll just have to keep an eye on how those fisheries progress the next few years. There may still be hope: as far as crabs go, those that survived the spill may have one more trick up their sleeves:

For an interesting first-person account of an oil spill back in Alaska you can listen to Dune Lankard of Cordova's reaction to the Exxon Valdez oil spill here. Alaska Day: not just for celebrating, but also for learning!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Immortal crab

If you've recently been to UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences building at Lena Point in Juneau, you have probably seen this:

here they come!

It's an amazing wall of bronze fish swimming in towards the building's front doors. This project was a collaboration between Ray Troll (you know him from... pretty much every fish-themed artwork in southeast Alaska, including this mural over at UAS) and sculptor Gary Staab. They had to catch the fish, make bronze casts out of them, paint them accurately, then attach them all in an orderly fashion to the brick wall!

But what's missing here? That's right! No crabs! At least that's what I thought until someone pointed out a sneaky little guy on the rocks by the door:

a sweet little Dungeness crab
(Metacarcinus magister)

proclaiming domination over the
hoards of fish behind him!

The little Dungy was attached by drilling a hole INTO THE ROCK! Hard core! You can see some photos through the progression of the whole project here. And don't worry, there's also a spiny lumpsucker camped out on another rock!

"Don't forget about me! The greatest fish around!"

So if you're ever in the neighborhood, be sure to stop by and see these amazing fish and sweet little immortalized crab!

Friday, October 14, 2011

The ups and downs of Alaskan crabbing

Red king crab and snow crab fisheries open tomorrow (October 15th)!! What are the ups and downs, you ask? I'll start with the 'down' (everyone chooses to hear the bad news first, right?):

The red king crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus) fishery, has been cut by 47% to 7.8 million pounds. Not only is this bad for the fishermen, but it's also bad for the crabs. A decrease in total allowable catch generally means crab stock estimates have decreased as well. And with king crab taking several (8 or so? maybe less now) years to grow into the fishery, at a size limit of 135 mm (6.5 in) carapace length, it may be a few years before the numbers can come up again.


OK, so that was the down. Here's the up:

Snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio) catch quota has been raised by 64% to just under 90 million pounds!!! Holy Bunch-O-Crab, Batman! Last year the ex-vessel price of opies was $103 million (at ~$2.12/lb), so even if the price per pound doesn't increase, the ex-vessel price will be (let me do some quick math):

almost $169 million!!!

Why the big increase in the snow crab quota? Haven't I been saying snow crab are in a rebuilding phase since their declaration of being overfished in 1999 (NMFS declared it, not the crabs themselves. Can you imagine?

Anyway, based on trawl surveys (like the one I participated in during the summer of 2009), the population estimate of eastern Bering Sea snow crab may be greater than 1 BILLION pounds! (Picture me saying that with my pinky at the corner of my mouth.) That means the stock may finally be considered "rebuilt"!! In order to be considered rebuilt, the stock needed to be greater than BMSY for two years in a row. BMSY is the Biological Maximum Sustainable Yield, and for snow crabs BMSY is 921.6 million pounds. According to this NOAA Tech Memorandum (it's a draft copy, but it's what I could find on short notice with the most current data), the stock was estimated around 670 million pounds in 2009, but for 2010 and 2011 the stock estimates reached over 1 billion pounds (pinky fingers!), far surpassing the 921.6 million pounds needed!

Biomass estimates for eastern Bering Sea snow crab:
the total stock estimates are in dark blue, but just for fun
I thought I'd throw in the estimates for legal males
and commercially preferred males (> 102 mm or 4 in)
in orange and light blue, respectively 

This is not only great for the fishermen (cha-ching), but great for the crabs themselves, who have been experiencing some temperature stresses from their cold pool (the area of water in the Bering Sea that is the perfect temperature for them to thrive) shifting northward, bitter crab disease turning up in opies, and cannibalism. Oh, the cannibalism!

get the butter ready!

BUT let's not forget that snow crab have a really crazy recruitment pattern. They're not easily predicted, which has led to overharvesting in the past. We'll just have to stay tuned.

(For more economic info, and some pretty graphs, check out this PDF.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Crab dip for a crab defense

Congratulations to Laurinda Marcello for successfully defending her Master's thesis!

To celebrate, I made this crab dip for her dinner get-together (I got the recipe from one of those coupon deals you get in the mail):

Creamy Crab and Pepper Spread

2 green onions, thinly sliced
8 oz cream cheese
6 oz crabmeat (1 can, drained)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1 tbsp dijon mustard

(I also threw in a little fall decor, just for fun.)

1. Set aside 2 tbsp of the green onions; mix everything else together

don't forget the mustard and cheese like I almost did!

2. Refrigerate for at least an hour

3. Garnish with reserved green onions, and serve with crackers!

Yum! And bonus if you can serve it in a crab bowl!

Friday, October 7, 2011


OK, OK, I know Fridays are supposed to be for the crabs. But while I was reading up on methyl farnesoate research in shrimp, I stumbled upon the common name of this species:

Banana Shrimp
Fenneropenaeus merguiensis

This shrimp is bananas!

Can you believe it!?! Banana + Shrimp! Two delicious things come together for one awesome animal! I read about them in a paper (Kuballa et al., 2007) looking at different isoforms of farnesoic acid O-methyl transferare (FaMeT), which may regulate methyl farnesoate synthesis (there are multiple forms of FaMeT! Go science!).

Banana shrimp (or prawns. You pick.) occur naturally off Australia, some South Pacific islands, along southeast Asia, India, and Pakistan (see a map here). They are also used for aquaculture, and, as these things tend to happen, have been found "invading" certain regions like the Mediterranean. (Oh, farm-raised shrimp. *sigh*) The wild ones aren't always a safe bet either, for human consumption that is, as some have had heavy metals in their tissues (think mercury, copper, and lead), and while some levels have been within safe limits for people, other have not! Yikes!

banana shrimp go postal!

On that appetizing note, I can't talk about banana shrimp without sharing a banana + shrimp recipe. Truth: I haven't tried this yet. I don't eat much shrimp because of how unsustainable a lot of shrimp fisheries are, but if you check with Blue Ocean Institute's seafood guide, it has a few shrimp fisheries that are A-OK!

Shrimp and Banana Curry

curry sauce:
6 tbsp butter
6 tbsp flour
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
2 1/2 cups chicken broth

the rest:
4 firm bananas, peeled
1 tbsp + 2 tsp butter, melted
1 1/2 lbs shrimp, shelled, cleaned, and cooked

1. For the sauce, melt the 6 tbsp of butter in a medium saucepan. Add the flour, curry powder, salt, and pepper and stir until smooth. Add chicken broth slowly and stir continuously until the sauce has thickened but remains smooth.

2. Preheat the oven to 375 F.

3. Place the bananas in a baking dish and brush with the melted butter. Pour half of the curry sauce over the bananas and bake for 15-18 minutes.

4. Add the cooked shrimp to the saucepan with the remaining sauce and heat through.

5. Serve the curried shrimp and bananas on a bed of rice (might I suggest cooked in coconut milk instead of water??), and enjoy! [serves 4]

Let me know how it turns out if you try this banana-shrimp recipe!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

World Animal Day

Happy World Animal Day!

I didn't know about this day until I looked at my calendar yesterday and saw it written in (below the First Quarter moon picture). World Animal Day is celebrated every year on October 4th - yet another reason to love October (you know: fall, leaves changing colors, all the squash you can eat, snow coming down the mountains, and HALLOWEEN!!!).

To celebrate World Animal Day, I thought I'd take a little inspiration from my Halloween decorations:

from Martha Stewart's Halloween craft collection

and turn it into a crab-tastic piece that's both fun AND educational. This way you can use it for your WAD party (I'm sure you're having one) as decor, a conversation starter, and a way to learn a little bit more about the animals I love: crabs!

Why am I making a ball out of crabs? Red king crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus) exhibit a podding behavior during the day, balling up with hundreds of their friends (they meander off at night to find dinner).

that's a whole lotta red king crabs!

See where I'm going with this? What you'll need to do is print out 12 of these for a king crab pod:

imagine all the colors you could use for this! Red, blue, golden...

Now the fun starts: connect three crabs together at one of the 5 points with a brad. I like to work around one main crab until I have 5 attached around him, leaving me with 6 total connected.

3 crabs joined together at one of the 5 points

6 connected (5 surrounding the main crab)

Next, take your 6 crabs and form them as a bowl in order to be able to attach 5 more crabs. Again, each point will connect 3 crabs.

joining 2 points in order to add
a third crab to this joint

the blue "brads" are where the original crabs
from the first group of 6 are joined together
to add a new layer of crabs;
the red "brad" is where the new layer of
crabs are connecting to each other

The last crab is the trickiest, but once he's on you'll have a wonderful, 12-strong pod of kings!

ready to hang for your WAD party!

Read about podding king crabs off of Kodiak, AK:
Dew, C. B. 1990. Podding behavior of red king crab, Paralithodes camtschatica. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 47: 1944-1958.