Exciting news in the conservation of a dwindling species! Yesterday, researchers from Adventure Aquarium and Richard Stockton College of New Jersey released 50 juvenile horseshoe crabs back into the Delaware Bay in Cape May County. The juveniles, which were 2 and 3 years old, were part of our Horseshoe Crab Head-Start Program.
Starting in July 2011 and led by Adventure Aquarium biologist Matt Ferroni, the program gives horseshoe crabs a better chance of survival and reproduction in the wild (learn more here). Because as far as misunderstood creatures go, horseshoe crabs certainly get a bad rap. They look scary and menacing, but are in reality perfectly harmless creatures that inhabit the same shoreline that you and I visit every summer. In fact, the Delaware Bay is home to one of the largest populations of horseshoe crabs in the world! However, few people would even guess that this number is dwindling. The horseshoe crab which has existed on earth since the time of the dinosaurs is facing a population decline, which has a ripple effect in the ecosystem. The many endangered migratory birds that feed on their eggs each year along the Bay (i.e. the Red Knot) and sea turtles depend on horseshoe crabs for food.
Survival rates for horseshoe crabs in the wild are very low. For example, a single female horseshoe crab can lay up to 80,000 eggs on the Delaware Bay, but it’s estimated that only 10 of those 80,000 reach adulthood. Thanks to the Aquariums biologists, the survival rate of the juveniles has improved to 35%. Each crab that is collected gets tagged with a coded wire tag that allows Adventure Aquarium biologists to identify the crabs in the future. The hope is that the tags will be retained through the horseshoe crab molts to allow for future studies.
Our team anticipates a release each year going forward, as more eggs are collected and raised to juvenile crabs each year. So the story continues! Be sure to stay tuned for ongoing updates on Adventure Aquarium’s horseshoe crab conservation efforts.