The Crab

the crab Not the same crab. Photo by Kai Dahms.

Whenever I walk on the beach I hunt for two things: interesting sea creatures and trash.

I was walking on the beach a few days ago (hunting, really) when I saw a fine white thread caught on a boulder in the sand, like spider silk loosed from a broken web. I’d never seen a spider web on the beach before. But once I placed my hand on it I could tell that it was actually a length of stray fishing line. I’d found some trash.

The fishing line did not end at the boulder. Hand over hand, I followed it toward the surf. As I pulled the line toward me it pulled back, pressing itself into the palm of my hand. In between breaks in the surf I realized that I was actually pulling against a large Dungeness crab, an interesting sea creature if there ever was one.

I quickly won a lopsided game of tug-of-war and then picked him up, being careful to avoid his sharp legs and cocked pincers. He could only move his limbs so far — they were bound by the fishing line which was cinched around two of his legs and loosely snaring several of the others.

It seemed clear that without an intervention this would be the last chapter in this creature’s life. So I set to work, loosening the tangle of fishing line from each of the crab’s legs. As soon as I’d freed one leg the tangle of fishing line bound another even tighter.

Were this crab simply walking across the beach I’d have been scared to pick him up. As I said, he was big – nearly the size of my outstretched hand — and his pincers were large too. Yet there he was, in my hands. I don’t think there’s anything special about my hands or the fact that I was using them to try to help this crab. Surely anyone who had discovered a crab tangled in fishing line would’ve done exactly what I did, even if they’d eaten that crab’s brother for dinner the night before. How could you not? YouTube is filled with videos of people dragging beached sharks back out to sea, helping frogs cross busy roads, or just freeing animals ensnared in trash. Like crabs, for example.

For all the crab knew, I might have been the one who’d set the line and snared him. And now maybe I was just trying to get him onto my plate. Yet if that was what the crab was thinking, that wasn’t how he acted. Even though my fingers were in reach of his pincers he never made an attempt — he just held them open.

He actually seemed quite relaxed, as if he wanted me to help him. I was handling him roughly and briskly and sometimes binding him even tighter as I worked to untangle him. Yet he seemed so relaxed that I thought he might be suffering from a being out of the water, or maybe even dying.

Several minutes after I first picked up the crab I removed the last loop of fishing line, crumpled it up, and placed it in my pocket. I presented the crab to Oren and Idara for closer inspection. Then I carried him back out into the water and placed him at the base of the large boulder on which I’d originally seen the fishing line. Within a few seconds he’d scurried away and hid itself well enough that I could no longer make him out among the starfish, mussels, and anemones.