The Orange Army at Port Phillip Bay

I listened in amazement to my friends at lunch. Crabs were invading Rye Pier. Hundreds, maybe thousands of them. What in the world are they talking about? Can it be possible? And what’s with these crabs? Have they gone loony?

crabs

Spider crabs so close you can catch with a net!

Then when I saw the photos, I was sold! I dialled Peter’s mobile and said we have to go crabbing. All we needed was a net and a bucket. With the promise of crabs for dinner, Peter didn’t need much convincing. He always talks about fishing but rarely ever goes as it requires him getting out of bed before 7:00am. Crabbing is almost like fishing and moreover by the time we get there by late afternoon, he will well and truly be awake! So there are no excuses really. Besides, I told him, the crabs are only ankle deep so we can just walk in and scoop them up!

So, our entire planning consisted of getting a net and bucket, shorts and sandals (for Peter and Aidan) and a drive down to Rye Pier. You of course can just see where this is all headed. But our optimism knows no bounds. Besides we had photographic evidence. Or as Peter would like to say from watching too many movies, “We have a visual on the crabs.” You might like to think of us as spontaneous people but really we are not. Occasionally though, we do go off script and this was one of those times.

After standing in Rye pier for 15 minutes we decided to call it quits. Other than feeling wintry cold (as it is winter) and Aidan pointed out that we were the only ones in shorts whilst everyone else seemed pretty rugged up, the crabs were nowhere near the shore. We would have had to get chest deep to get to these little critters. The only ones near the shore were either dead on their backs or half eaten by seagulls. Aidan categorically refused to wade in after confirming that the waters were ICY COLD!! (He dipped his fingers in to test) No, not even for one second.

As such, when we were driving home later that night with no crabs, we realised spontaneity does not always equal results. Never mind the fact that we didn’t consider about the time, the tides or even the possibility that crabs don’t hang around waiting to be dinner on a plate. We didn’t even think about whether they were edible! But then on the flip side, we did get to see something unique. Something we never knew happened right in our neck of the woods in Victoria. In fact, the spider crab migration is quite a special event (as I learned later). There are some who travel all the way just to witness it.

Once every year, they emerge from the deep and make their way into Port Phillip Bay to shed their hard shells for a new outer. With safety in numbers, they arrive in their thousands. Maybe even tens of thousands. And Rye Pier is a hot spot where they always turn up. We drove 15 minutes down the shoreline to another jetty and there was not one single crab! Rye Pier just happens to be their favourite sport. Like so many things in nature, no one really knows how they organize themselves like this other than they do. How they all get together within a few days and just march their way into the bay is such a fantastic natural phenomenon. It is puzzling to many researchers. I find it just simply amazing!

(Since none of us dared jump into the water, we have no photos to share. So, next best if you are interested, is to check out the website below from Museum Victoria. They have unbelievable footage of the orange army.)

http://museumvictoria.com.au/about/mv-blog/may-2012/orange-army/video-of-spider-crabs-swarming/

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