Thousands of small crawfish-like crustaceans known as tuna crabs (Pleuroncodes planipes) have been washed ashore on several beaches in Orange County, California.

According to reports, these mini crabs have been found scattered along the shorelines, creating a bright red rim on the beaches of Salt Creek, Dana Point, Newport, San Clemente, Strands, south Laguna and Huntington on Sunday.

Donna Kalez, general manager of the Dana Wharf Sportfishing, spotted the creatures while taking a leisurely stroll on the headlands of Dana Point.

"They are all still alive. They are in the surfline and swimming up," Kalez said.

"Once they get this close to shore, they can't go anywhere, so they just wash in. They aren't strong enough to swim out."

A massive number of tuna crabs have also been washed up in beaches in San Diego County over the past few weeks. Some of the tiny crustaceans were spotted in Orange County sporadically in recent days, but this weekend they were washed ashore by the thousands.

Marine experts said that tuna crabs, which are known to grow to about one to three inches in length, have not been seen in Orange County for decades. They believe the creatures were drawn to the area from their natural habitat in Baja California because of the warm waters.

The rising water temperature in Southern California has attracted various sea creatures to the area in the previous year, with the tiny crustaceans being the latest in a line of odd sightings along the west coast.

Other marine animals that have flocked to the region include tropical fish such as bluefin and yellowtail tuna as well as Velella, which are blue, jellyfish-like creatures commonly known as sea raft or by-the-wind sailor.

Scientists have been monitoring the affected areas in the ocean through water maps capable of reading temperatures. The warm patch extends from the Bering Sea to the waters off Southern California.

Jason Young, chief of Orange County Lifeguards, said they urge beachgoers not to touch the tuna crabs or take them from marine protected areas in Laguna Beach and Dana Point. They are also educating the people about the nature of the tiny crustaceans.

While the beach at Salt Creek is filled with people because of a big surfing competition, the O.C. Lifeguards said they have not received any reports of people getting pinched by the tuna crabs.

"They have pinchers, but they mostly swim backward," Young said. "They sort of bump you along the way."

Young added that the last time he saw the small crabs in the area was during the El Niño phenomenon in 1997. He said that colleagues in north Orange County reported sightings of tuna crabs in the sand but not in the same numbers as those found in south Laguna.

Photo: Jack Miller | Flickr 

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