Dungeness Crabs Redux

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Well, after my last post, The Solution To Dissolution, I thought I was done with the Dungeness crab question. And I was happy to be done with those chilly crustaceans. Writing that post brought back memories of how cold the fishery is. I remember leaving out from Eureka harbor at the north end of California and crossing the bar at the mouth of Humboldt Bay well before dawn. The “bar” is where the sand piles up at a harbor entrance and it gets shallow enough for the waves to break … and Humboldt Bay has a bad bar. Lots of people have lost their lives there. Here’s a Coast Guard boat fighting its way out to sea across that bar …

On the way out to the fishing grounds, we had to make up the bait bags for the crab pots. We used frozen anchovies for bait, and I can assure you that breaking up blocks of frozen fish before dawn with my hands in thin rubber gloves in pitching seas in December is not my idea of a good party … I’m a tropical boy whose idea of frozen things relates more to whiskey glasses and drinks with tiny umbrellas and the like. So I’d hoped that my last post would let me return in memory to warmer times and more pleasant fisheries.

In that post, I discussed the manifold problems with the incorrect media claim that “The Pacific Ocean is becoming so acidic it is starting to dissolve the shells of a key species of crab, according to a new US study.”

I pointed out that the ocean was moving a bit toward neutral, a process that alarmist scientists and the media falsely call “ACIDIFICATION!!!” I noted that terminology was chosen to scare people. I said that if we used the correct terminology, the media claim would be:

“The Pacific Ocean is becoming so neutral it is starting to dissolve the shells of a key species of crab, according to a new US study.”

And of course, that is both not alarming and not possible. 

So with that post, I figured my crabby memories were in the rear-view mirror.

But noooo … as Michael Corleone said, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” Over on Facebook someone mentioned that I hadn’t looked at the most basic data—how many crabs were actually caught, and were the numbers dropping? And they were right, it’s a very valid question.

However, this question is not as simple as it seems. Changes in fishing regulations, changes in season length, changes in the number of boats, things like excess domoic acid making the crabs poisonous and delaying the season openings, all of these kinds of issues can influence the total landings of any marine species. 

Plus the information is kind of hard to find. I did find this, from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, clearly the most confusingly crabby chart imaginable.

Finally, I thought “The UN Food and Agriculture Organization must have the data”, and they did. So with the above caveats about changes in regulations and seasons and the like, here are the records from the FAO FIGIS Fisheries Statistics regarding Dungeness crab landings for the Northwestern US including Alaska, and for Canada.

Figure 1. Total Dungeness crab landings, US and Canada. The big drop in 2015 was from excess domoic acid in the crabs greatly delaying the opening of the Dungeness crab commercial fishing season. The background shows crab fishing boats leaving out of Newport Harbor in Oregon.

There are several interesting things about Figure 1. 

First, CO2 has been rising, and the oceans have been becoming slightly more neutral, during the entire period shown above.

Next, if the Dungeness crabs are getting dissolved by the slight decrease in pH, they didn’t get the memo … 

Next, in my previous post I’d described a problem with the study, which used samples collected in 2016, as follows:

They went on a two-month cruise, took some samples, and extrapolated heavily. We don’t even know if they’d have found the exact same “dissolution” a hundred, fifty, or twenty-five years ago. Or perhaps the dissolution was particularly bad during that particular two-month period in that particular small location. 

This should not surprise us. One reason that so many marine creatures spawn hundreds of thousands of larvae is that many, perhaps most, of them will drift into inhospitable conditions and die for any one of a host of reasons—problems with salinity, turbidity, pH, predators, temperature, the list is long.

With that in mind, look in Figure 1 at the large jump in US landings in 2012, as well as the equally large drop in the following year. One year currents and temperatures and the rest were favorable. But the next year, bad currents took them into the wrong area, or some other oceanic condition was wrong, and most of them died. This shows the beauty of mass spawnings—although the numbers can drop precipitously in one year, the numbers can also bounce back in the following year. It’s one difference between the land and the sea. On land, most creatures except insects have only a few offspring. But in the sea, almost every kind of life reproduces prodigiously. This allows even a few survivors to quickly repopulate the species.

And finally, overall, I see no evidence of the claimed effect of a slightly lower pH on the Dungeness crabs. Remember that as pointed out in my last post, the pH of the ocean along this coast can vary by a huge amount in a single day.

In closing, let me add a couple of points raised in the comments to my last post.

The first regards what scientists call the “diel vertical migration” of the “deep scattering layer”. (“Diel” means “daily”, but they’re scientists so that’s not impressive enough).

In the open ocean every night, billions of tiny zooplankton swim vertically some 500 metres or so up to near the surface and spend the hours of darkness there. Then before dawn, they swim back down to spend the day in the darkness of the depths. I’ve read that it’s the largest animal migration by weight on the planet, happening invisibly every day. There are so many tiny zooplankton that they can be seen on sonar. Here’s an example:

Figure 2. Sonar record of diel (daily) vertical migration of zooplankton in the open ocean. SOURCE

As a long-time fisherman and ocean aficionado, I knew about that amazing migration. But what I hadn’t thought about is that these creatures were going from a pH in the neighborhood of 8.0 at the surface down to waters with a pH around 7.5 down in the deeps … a change of half a pH point in a couple of hours. Kinda dwarfs the predicted slight ocean neutralization expected by 2100 according to the RCP 6.0 of 0.08 pH units … half a pH unit in two hours versus 0.08 pH units in 80 years? No contest.

The other interesting item that was pointed out is that crabs evolved under much higher levels of CO2. I can’t do better than to quote a comment on this:

Decapods evolved in the late Silurian or early Devonian Period, ie under CO2 levels of 4500 to 2200 ppm. If anything, a paltry 400 ppm is not optimum for them.

The crablike form has evolved at least five times among decapods. Crustaceans with shells evolved in the Cambrian, ie under 7000 ppm. The top predator of that period was the crustacean Anomalocaris.

This is very important, not just for crabs, but for all sea creatures. As another commenter pointed out:

During the Devonian period, CO2 was around 4,500 ppm and the oceans were around 30 degC. This era (some 420 to 350 million years ago) was known as the age of the fish. The oceans teamed with life and the largest fish ever to swim the oceans swam during this era.

I’d never thought seriously about the pH of the ocean when CO2 was much higher in the past. One thing’s for sure—past extremely high CO2 levels didn’t cause the ocean biota of the time to start pining for the fjords

This is one of the reasons I love writing for the web. If I got all scientificized and wrote up something learnedly crabistical for the journals about this, I’d never get the amazing feedback that I get on this site. I learn as much from reading the comments as I do from my own research.

Meanwhile, here up on our hillside above the ocean, the sun is revealing the moss on the redwood tree stumps in verdant splendor …

… and in any case, this should let me put crabs firmly in my rear-view mirror now …


… or not … WARNING: VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED. The following tale involves allegations of unbridled pediculosis and rampant hallucinations. It is not scientific at all. Proceed at your own risk. And if you are offended by what I’ve written, please don’t fill Anthony’s email box up with complaints. You are proceeding at your risk, not his.

One lovely warm afternoon in Hawaii, I was enjoying the day when I felt a curious itching sensation in my … well … in the location my old drill instructor used to call the “groan area.” I made an examination of said zone, and for the first and only time in my life, I found I was unwittingly providing a home to Pthiris pubis, commonly known as “having a case of the crabs”.

I grabbed one of those jokers as it was in mid-stride making haste towards the nearest … bush … and held it up in the sunshine to take a close look at it. However, there was a complicating factor. No surprise there, things in my life tend to happen in odd combinations.

At the time, I was working as a trainee psychotherapist in a residential therapy setting where we used LSD as an adjunct to psychotherapy. I’ve described my time there, on my blog in a post called Life In The Psychedelicatessen. And as life turns out sometimes, on that lovely Hawaiian afternoon I was well and truly under the influence of that most curious of hallucinogens.

One of the effects of LSD is that you can focus way, way down on something and it appears huge. So when I looked at that tiny crab, it looked something like this …

… only it was coruscating and sparkling and radiating colored light and changing sizes as I watched it … YIKES!

To say I was stunned is a massive understatement. 

Despite my impaired state, I walked to the nearest pharmacy, bought some Quell shampoo, and still under the influence, I went home and dealt summarily with the tiny home invaders … and with the ending of that tale, now, perhaps, I can finally put crabs firmly in the rear-view mirror and move on.

PS: My usual request. When you are commenting, to avoid misunderstandings please quote the exact words you are discussing.

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John Tillman
February 2, 2020 10:23 am

Glad you found my comment on decapod evolution useful. My fellow commenter meant Devonian Period, not era. It’s era was the Paleozoic.

As I also observed, Earth’s ocean when life appeared here was actually acidic. It’s pH has been more or less steadily increasing for four billion years, but with fluctuations far greater than imagined for going from 300 to 600 ppm.

Also, as shown by Dr. Spencer’s recent work and previous studies, we’re unlikely ever to enjoy 600 ppm in the next 300 years. Earth will probably have to exit its 34 million year-long ice house for that to happen.

T Gannett
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
February 2, 2020 11:48 am


Alas, autodidacts are not highly regarded by the supposedly educated. Let me throw another wrench in the works. Most folks think neutral is pH=7. Not so neutral is when p(H+)=p(OH-). At stop neutral at roughly p(H)=7. But auto hydrolysis of water will vary as temperature and pressure vary with depth. Too few chemists read your posts.

Churchy lachemme
(Aka T Gannett)

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
February 2, 2020 11:50 am

A couple of years ago, I attended a guest lecture in the geology department at Miami University (Oxford, OH). The topic was dissolution of the carapaces of oceanic invertebrates, and the mechanism of using energy to change the pH of the water at the growth interface. Fundamentally, there is an energy cost to growing shells, which is related to how much the current pH differs from the optimum pH level for the organism. Different organisms have different optimal pH levels! I suggested to the lecturer that the differences might be related to the prevailing conditions when the organism first evolved. He agreed with that assessment.

So, the not surprising conclusion is that if the ocean pH varies with time, some organisms will benefit and some will suffer, regardless of which way the pH changes.

Charles Higley
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
February 2, 2020 4:22 pm

And some will adapt, over time, for sure, and have to adapt back possibly at a later time with changing conditions.

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
February 2, 2020 8:56 pm

pH of early oceans was likely very nearly still around 8. In the lab, you can add 5g of powdered limestone into a flask. Bubble in CO2, which dissolves the CaCO3 (limestone). Once you have completely dissolved all of the CaCO3, measure the pH of the solution at 20C and you’ll get a value of 8.1. There is simply not enough carbon to burn into CO2 on the planet to dissolve all of the limestone in the ocean. The ocean is very, very well buffered. Perhaps you could make some surface waters temporarily acidic if you raised the CO2 concentration really fast, but simply spreading finely ground limestone pebbles on the ocean floor in sensitive areas would solve that problem… and relative inexpensive if ever needed.

John Tillman
Reply to  Alcheson
February 4, 2020 5:51 pm

The chemistry of the Hadean ocean was very different. Due to lack of free O2, it contained lots of iron, for instance.

Also, CO2 was perhaps a third of the air, with huge error bars, but in any case, a lot. And there was a lot less land, with low topography, so not a lot of runoff.

Sea vents also released an abundance of hydrogen.

Charles Higley
Reply to  John Tillman
February 2, 2020 4:20 pm

In addition, as photosynthesis is an alkalizing process, the water in a bay or estuary can rise by 2+ pH units during a sunny day. At night, oxygen metabolism, an acidifying process, due in part to organic acids released, brings the pH back down.

The water entering a coral reef during the day comes out a bit acidified on the other side due to all the life metabolizing in the reef.

It is ingenuous to think that ocean pH is a constant, a straight line. I like to tell my students, “Nature does not do straight lines.”

Curious George
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
February 2, 2020 6:06 pm

Now we are psychoanalyzing Mother Nature. I enjoy your approach.

nw sage
Reply to  Curious George
February 3, 2020 6:44 pm

Hmmmm – psychoanalyzing Mother Nature – a worthwhile endeavor!!

Back on the crab ‘disappearing studies’ I don’t recall much about the obvious reason – the crabs follow the food supply to somewhere else [deep!!] in the ocean and we haven’t found them when they do that.

Roy Sokolowski
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
February 3, 2020 6:39 pm

“The programmers assume that if a value is 5 at one location and 0 at another location, the most likely occurrence in between is 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0. In fact, it’s as likely and often more likely to be 5, 5, 5, 0, 0, 0 …”

For modeling purposes does it really matter? Over a given distance the average value would be the same no matter which method was used. Models are not real, and the more complex and large the model is, the less important but small details like this are, because they will never be accurate compared to the actual environment. They cannot be, no matter how many super computers are used to process the limited or inaccurate input data.

Reply to  Charles Higley
February 2, 2020 9:39 pm

Hi Charles Higley, – Yes, photosynthesis alkalinizes inside plant cells. However I want to try to clarify where algal cells influence sea water alkalinity.

Algae take up nitrogen in the form of nitrate to make into nitrite to make into ammonium. How much of the ammonium gets used depends on the availability inside the organism of carbon skeletons (which together are what can forge into amino acids).

If there is a sparse supply of carbon &/or limited carbon skeletons then the algae release ammonium (to avoid it’s risky build up inside) out into the water. It is this ammionium that causes alkalinization of the nearby water. For that matter, any nitrite the algae may release out into the water (ex: algae lyse due to phages) will also contribute to alkalinization; but the degree of nitrite driven alkalinization is much less than from ammonium).

In the dark there is little nitrate uptake compared to nitrate uptake in the light. In darkness there is also less ammonium being synthesized for the small organism to cope with.

Furthermore some, but not all, algae respond to exposure to blue light frequencies by activating the processes underlying nitrate uptake. Thus where blue light nitrate uptake driven algae are found their ammonium level & hence water alkalinizing potential is partly a function of spectrum frequency.

When Willis Eschenbach posted above a chart of zooplankton coming up toward the surface from ocean depths at night & returning afterwards he missed the implication when then discussed this phenomena as an example of misunderstood pH. The night sky is blue & I posit that those zoolankton are an example of requiring blue light spectrum to take in nitrate; depth lessens light spectrum penetration.

Those zooplankton later go down to depths with their load of nitrate to make into nitrate & then ammonium for synthesizing amino acids with their assemblage of carbon skeletons. But, apparently down deep they have limited carbon skeletons & so their night time gorged nitrate leaves them overloaded with ammonium; thus they release so much ammonium into the surrounding water that the pH where they spend the day is relatively alkalinized to 8pH (according to Original Post).

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
February 3, 2020 5:56 am


” …. it’s the best school in town!” — Yes it is! …. and you bring out the best of the best!

WUWT University

Reply to  gringojay
February 3, 2020 4:21 am

you seem to have a wide and well varied trove of interesting info on so many topics, like Willis,
hows about some articles ?

Reply to  gringojay
February 4, 2020 9:38 am

And of course all good climate modelers anticipate this and factor it in to graphs…..

Ted Dooley
Reply to  Charles Higley
February 3, 2020 3:47 pm

nor hockey sticks…

Newt Love
February 2, 2020 10:36 am

Love your posts! This one is fun and informative!

Ben Gunn
February 2, 2020 10:43 am

Willis you are one of my favorite posters here on WUWT. Thank you for the time and effort.

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
February 2, 2020 9:09 pm

Question: What happens to the CO3– level when you bubble CO2 into a flask containing water saturated with calcium carbonate with excess powdered CaCO3 (limestone) sitting on the bottom? Does is go up… or down?
If you believe most of what the alarmists and Nick claim, the CO3– decreases. Actually this is not correct, CO3– increases since the pH of the solution remains almost constant until ALL of the limestone is dissolved. I would thus wager that higher CO2 in the long past likely helped shell bearing species to grow faster and bigger.

Reply to  Ben Gunn
February 3, 2020 4:19 am

and I cacked laughing at part 2
damned funny!

February 2, 2020 10:55 am

The issue isn’t really pH. It’s the aragonite saturation state (Ωarg) that matters, and it doesn’t matter much.


Station ALOHA Aragonite and Calcite saturation state trends (May 2000 – Nov. 2016).  Adapted from: Dore, J.E., R. Lukas, D.W. Sadler, M.J. Church, and D.M. Karl. 2009. Physical and biogeochemical modulation of ocean acidification in the central North Pacific. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 106:12235-12240

Here’s the in situ Ωarg vs. pCO2… normalized to 20 °C and the laboratory correlation from Ries et al, 2009 at 25 °C.  The power function was derived from Ries.

Station Aloha Aragonite saturation vs pCO2 at 20 °C.   Adapted from: Dore, J.E., R. Lukas, D.W. Sadler, M.J. Church, and D.M. Karl. 2009. Physical and biogeochemical modulation of ocean acidification in the central North Pacific. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 106:12235-12240 and Ries, Justin B., Anne L. Cohen, Daniel C. McCorkle; Marine calcifiers exhibit mixed responses to CO2-induced ocean acidification. Geology ; 37 (12): 1131–1134. doi: https://doi.org/10.1130/G30210A.1

Ries et al., 2009 conducted a laboratory experiment on a representative sample of marine calcifiers (oceanic critters that make shells, tests, carapaces, etc. out of CaCO3)…

To investigate the impact of ocean acidification on a range of benthic marine calcifiers, we reared 18 calcifying species for 60 d in isothermal (25 °C; see the Data Repository for discussion) experimental seawaters equilibrated with average pCO2 values (±SD) of 409 (±6), 606 (±7), 903 (±12), and 2856 (±54) ppm, corresponding to modern pCO2, and ~2, 3, and 10 times pre-industrial levels (~280 ppm), respectively, and yielding average seawater saturation states (±SD) of 2.5 (±0.4), 2.0 (±0.4), 1.5 (±0.3), and 0.7 (±0.2) with respect to aragonite (see the Data Repository for detailed methods). These carbonate system parameters were selected to represent the range of values predicted for the coming millennium (Brewer, 1997; Feely et al., 2004) and to span those reported to have occurred since mid-Cretaceous time (ca. 110 Ma; Royer et al., 2004; Tyrrell and Zeebe, 2004). The organisms’ net rates of calcifi cation (total calcification minus total dissolution) under the various pCO2 treatments were estimated from changes in their buoyant weight and verified with dry weight measurements after harvesting.

The aragonite saturation data from Station ALOHA indicate that critical levels would occur at much higher pCO2 levels than Ries’ formulations.  Most of the marine calcifier taxa were relatively unaffected below the equivalent of 600-900 ppm CO2.

Taxa without a strong preference for aragonite over calcite, that had a higher degree of organic cover and those that utilized photosynthesis tended to fare better under high COconditions.  Some of the best seafood (crab, shrimp & lobster) thrive in under high COconditions.

Figure 1 from Ries (Left), red boxes approximate current calcification rate range.    (Right) Letters indicate the pCO2 level at which the calcification rate drops below the current range.   Adapted from: Dore, J.E., R. Lukas, D.W. Sadler, M.J. Church, and D.M. Karl. 2009. Physical and biogeochemical modulation of ocean acidification in the central North Pacific. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 106:12235-12240  and Ries, Justin B., Anne L. Cohen, Daniel C. McCorkle; Marine calcifiers exhibit mixed responses to CO2-induced ocean acidification. Geology ; 37 (12): 1131–1134. doi: https://doi.org/10.1130/G30210A.1

The only marine calcifier which appears to be in peril at pCO2 levels likely to be reached in the next few centuries is the soft clam,  Mya arenaria,… And this is fracking HILARIOUS!!!

The high tolerance of environmental factors is reflected in two statements made by Hidu & Newell (1989) about clam culture: “Mya larvae are among the most hardy that we have reared; one has to work overtime with incompetence to destroy a brood.” and “If Mya are hardy as larvae they are even more hardy as juveniles.”

Strasser, 1998

And if Dr. Spencer is right about CO2, we won’t even get close to the level that caused problems for soft clams in Ries’ experiment.

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
February 2, 2020 11:40 am

Way back in the Pleistocene. when I was getting my BS in Earth Science, “ocean acidification” was known as marine carbonate geochemistry… 😉

JRF in Pensacola
Reply to  David Middleton
February 2, 2020 1:13 pm

David, our industry used the Langalier and Ryznar calcium carbonate saturation indices to measure a water’s tendency to scale in a heat exchanger. These indices used calcium hardness, alkalinity, total dissolved solids, pH and temperature in differing ways to calculate the tendency to form or dissolve calcium carbonate. Temperature was used because, as you know, calcium solubility is inversely related to temperature. But, these indices would not be appropriate for the formation of carbonate in biological systems although they may be useful as an indicator of dissolution.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  David Middleton
February 2, 2020 1:26 pm

Hey Dave, Willis,
Happy Super Bowl Day!

In a case you are sports fans.

Glad to see more in this subject, thank you Willis for taking the time to inform us.
Ditto to you Dave.
You have written about this before, and some good articles at that.
I have mostly focused on the chemistry when talking about this topic, but if course the actual world knows nothing about the ways people divvy up info into separate subjects. It all overlaps.
Chemistry is not separate from biology.
Biology is chemistry, and living organisms and their cells are the the oldest and best chemists we know of.
They know actual chemistry, not the sophistic brand touted by some people.
And I have a strong background in biology and biochemistry…sooooo…
I have begun a deep dive into the shells of sea creatures, what are they made of, how variable are they or can they be, what specific pathways are utilized for the biosynthesis of the shells…And it will take lots of time.
Years ultimately.
But much can be gleaned quickly.
I got interested after considering how it is that many types of shelled creatures seem to do just fine in actually acidic conditions, far outside of the rather confined range of current ocean surface pH values.
The chemistry, marine carbonate geochemistry that is, is immensely complex, given the varying concentrations of numerous ionic species and of gasses, huge variations in temperature, pressure, pH, and all manner of biological activities occurring.
And it has a nice ring to it, folks right off the tongue, marine carbonate geochemistry!
I was also very interested in finding out more about one assertion: that at least some creatures use bicarbonate as the precursor ion, the raw material, for the calcium carbonate component of their shells.
I found some source material which backs up this assertion.
I will find more and if this is controversial or in dispute.
After all…if alarmists are claiming one thing, but the truth is something else…that would be shocking (but unprecedented? Hah!) and people need to know.
I am gonna have to look into this entire subject in great detail.

Seperately, I was looking into the subject of crab shells, since I knew they are primarily made of chitin, not calcium carbonate. But they do have some of the latter in their shell matrix. And not just calcium carbonate.
Calcium is not the only mineral cation common in seawater that binds with carbonate.
Magnesium does so as well.
And others.
Magnesium carbonate inclusions are thought to be one of the ways that crabs make their shells so hard and rigid.
And it is an exoskeleton, meaning for a crab to grow it has to molt.
IOW cast off their existing shell and grow a whole new one underneath it, and which is briefly soft enough to allow the creature to get bigger.
Neat trick…growing while casting off a large chunk of themselves…how do they do it?
One way is by reabsorbing a bunch of the calcium carbonate from the old shell prior to casting it off.
Clever beasties…I bet that is important, that detail.
How do they do it?
And it must happen in a relatively short time, I am thinking, this scavenging of the minerals from their own shell while still wearing it.
And what are the details of how the new shell hardens up?

The intersection of biology, physics, and chemistry…interesting neighborhood.
More in this, I am sure, to be discussed.

Reply to  David Middleton
February 2, 2020 8:49 pm

Seems their experiment lacked calcium carbonate or limestone in the bottom of their experimental aquarium. Oceans are in contact with huge reservoirs of limestone. Question… How does one easily dissolve finally powdered limestone (CaCO3) in the lab. Answer… Bubble in CO2! And bonus point… what is the pH of the solution at 20 degrees when all of the limestone has just completely dissolved? Answer pH 8.1.
No wonder the oceans were teeming with life with CO2 was >2000 ppm. It was loaded with CO3– and the pH was not anywhere near acidic.

February 2, 2020 11:07 am

Willis the crab landings are going up at the same rate as CO2 is going up…

(I know, the x and y can be played with) LOL

Farmer Ch E retired
Reply to  Latitude
February 2, 2020 12:04 pm

Had no problem collecting 6 lbs of Dungeness crab meat from 2 traps in SE AK. I can attest to the hardness of the shells. Great meat – still have 4 lbs in the freezer. I’m definitely an amateur but enjoy the experience. 1st experience w/ Dungeness crabs was in 1973 as assistant stillman on swing shift at the Mobile Ferndale Refinery. The operators would pull the traps at the dock and cook the crabs in a bucket of water using plant steam.

Farmer Ch E retired
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
February 2, 2020 1:38 pm

Willis – did a bit of research and in 1988, the Mobil Oil refinery sold to Sohio Oil Co., a subsidiary of BP. When I worked there, there was another larger refinery nearby – believe it was called Atlantic Richfield Cherry Point. One of my tasks was to blend tetra ethyl lead into the gasoline product tanks in the outer units. I’ve made amends for my environmental sins by spending most of my career as an environmental engineer/consultant.

Thanks for your post.

Farmer Ch E retired
Reply to  Farmer Ch E retired
February 2, 2020 4:23 pm

I can’t spell but have been quite good at feeding a family.

February 2, 2020 11:09 am

Speaking of crabs, I once went into my local butcher shop on a busy Saturday morning to buy some bullock hearts as bait for my mudcrab pots.

When I got to be served, the butcher told me they were all out of bullock hearts, was there anything else I wanted?

I said over the din of all the other shoppers – “what’s good for crabs?”

Butcher couldn’t help himself – he replied loudly – “blue ointment!”

The whole shop guffawed of course. I had nothing. Copped it sweet.

(Lamb necks worked just as well in the crab pots)

Richard from Brooklyn (south)
February 2, 2020 11:14 am

Willis, I note that pure water (let’s say distilled water) is more ‘acidic’ than the acidic seawater that the alarmists are studying (under their distorted scientific viewpoint!).

BTW in reference to your temporary friends in your nether regions, the french call them papillon d’amour (butterflies of love). A beautiful word for a pain in the ‘groan’.

Reply to  Richard from Brooklyn (south)
February 2, 2020 11:54 am

Yes, pure rainwater is acidic, about pH 5.6 as a matter of fact. Most fresh water is more or less acidic. The exception is water in limestone areas.

That seawater is alkaline is mostly due to the salt content.

Don K
Reply to  tty
February 2, 2020 1:16 pm

“Yes, pure rainwater is acidic”

You’d think that would be kind of inconvenient for terrestrial gastropods (i.e. snails) — but they get by somehow. Even in the frozen wasteland of Northern New England.

Steve Keohane
Reply to  tty
February 3, 2020 7:57 am

Up here near the continental divide in western Colorado, the creek by my house runs 8.5-9.0ph. The stone is a mixture of basalt and sandstone, upheaved seafloor. A nearby town’s drinking water is 8.5.

Reply to  Steve Keohane
February 3, 2020 10:58 am

That is close to soda lake levels. You must have a lot of dissolved salts in the water.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Richard from Brooklyn (south)
February 2, 2020 11:58 am

Look up the pH of freshwater swamps.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
February 2, 2020 2:44 pm

And black water rivers.
And lakes that do not have a carbonate rock basement.
The estuaries where (often acidic) rivers run into the sea.
These places are not exactly barren.
And then there are the so-called black smokers…not to mention white smokers…the hydrothermal vents that are scattered along the 49,700 miles of mid ocean ridges, and where new sea crust is being formed from upwelling magma.
Not only acidic, but hot…typically 140°F to as much as 870+°F!
Some of this water is supercritical, meaning it is neither a liquid or a gas, and it can pass through solid materials like a gas, and dissolve materials like a liquid.
See info on a site called Beebe, the Beebe hydrothermal vent field.
Here is a short video, and many more are on you tube:
Hmmm, how about that…chock full o life, and many are shelled organisms.
They are so prolific they are in layers and piles:

Crabs, shrimps of some sort it appears, clams of many types, snail looking shelled creatures something that looks like maybe an anemone sort of thing…
Growing often right in the hot streams, and not a few of them neither:

An extreme environment, to be sure.
One might expect any living creatures to give such locations a wide berth, but in fact the opposite is observed. Life teems around these features, seemingly defying death in water that is way past scaldingly hot, corrosive, and at times downright caustic (caustic: Having the property of being able to burn or corrode organic tissue…not synonymous generally with “alkaline”, but only when denoting extreme states of high pH).
How do they do it…survive where models say they ought not be able to do?
I think warmistas might learn a thing or two by studying extremophiles.

Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
February 3, 2020 11:12 am

The deep sea is very, very poor in nutrients, because there is no primary production. No sunlight = no photosynthesis.

There are two exceptions.

1. “Whalefalls”, where a dead whale creates a temporary “oasis” of life.

2. Hydrothermal vents, which create a energy-rich environment for chemosynthetic (and often extremophile) bacteria. Ultimately all organisms around the vents live on these bacteria.

So the organisms around those vents are a bit like farmers that live on the slopes of volcanoes. It may be a quite dangerous place, but it is also a lot more fertile than anywhere else.

Ironically they are also dependent on an icehouse climate, it is the constant production of very cold, salty, well oxygenated, dense, water that keeps the ocean deeps oxygenated and livable for aerobic organisms. In former, warmer, times the deep ocean has often been dysoxic or anoxic.

Reply to  Richard from Brooklyn (south)
February 3, 2020 9:57 am

Sorry, Willis, you messed up. You are not supposed to use Quell, they can come back. The only sure fire way to remove the crabs is to shave half the “area”, put lighter fluid on the other half and then light it. When the critter run out of the burning area, stab them with an ice pick. There, problem solved!

February 2, 2020 11:29 am

Dungness Chopino, Yum!!

Richard G.
February 2, 2020 11:32 am

Your prior crabby post and the comment thread was exceptionally great, especially regarding DVM.
From this post:
“With that in mind, look in Figure 1 at the large jump in US landings in 2012, as well as the equally large drop in the following year. One year currents and temperatures and the rest were favorable. But the next year, bad currents took them into the wrong area, or some other oceanic condition was wrong, and most of them died.”
-I would suggest that one possible contributing cause of the drop in catch would be market signalling response to lower market price due to abundance.

michael hart
February 2, 2020 11:44 am

“… only it was coruscating and sparkling and radiating colored light and changing sizes as I watched it … YIKES!”

Reminds me of Douglas Adams’

“scintillating jeweled scuttling crabs”

of planet Vog-sphere… which the Vogons would smash with their iron mallets.

February 2, 2020 11:47 am

Here’s another tale of an Ocean Acidification tragedy near an ocean CO2 vent near the Philippines.


Bottom line…nearby coral are doing fine, and “they” don’t know why.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  DocSiders
February 2, 2020 6:40 pm

Better than fine, he seemed to be saying.
I suspect it will be hard for them to effectively study this…because it is incompatible with their basic underlying assumptions above CO2.
Imagine when they realize that having more, not less, of the major building block of life…is good for living things.
Corals depend on photosynthesizing symbionts, which need CO2 to you know, do that photosynthesis thang.
And the shells of which the reef itself is constructed…why it seems that they get that carbonate from CO2.
My guess is, that for some odd reason, more CO2 is helpful to things made of CO2.

February 2, 2020 11:49 am

Thanks, Willis. Great follow-up to your previous post.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.


February 2, 2020 12:07 pm

Yes, pure rainwater is acidic, about pH 5.6 as a matter of fact. Most fresh water is more or less acidic. The exception is water in limestone areas.

That seawater is alkaline is mostly due to the salt content.

February 2, 2020 12:09 pm

With regard to pediculosis of all kinds, its a real shame that Quellada no longer contains lindane which had the advantage of killing both adults and nits. I shudder to think of the modern mum who has to keep retreating until all are hatched.

Mark Fraser
February 2, 2020 12:42 pm

Front row at the strip club

February 2, 2020 12:45 pm

Thanks for bringing back memories of crossing the bar at Humboldt Bay with the tide coming in. It’s an unforgettable experience …

Reply to  MikeP
February 2, 2020 1:49 pm

Ouch … tide going out … it’s an outbound current steepening incoming waves …

Loren Wilson
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
February 2, 2020 8:05 pm

Tomales Bay is the trench caused by the San Andreas fault. Hope it doesn’t decide to rip while you are near. I grew up in Southern California – the entire area is crisscrossed with faults. One went under my elementary school.

Paul Chamberlain
February 2, 2020 12:51 pm

I am reminded of the joke about the Brain of Britain contest when the Irish* contestant was asked to give a collective noun for an animal species. After about five minutes agonizing he replied “A dose of crabs”.
*(Replace “Irish” with whichever nationality you feel the need to insult.)

David H
February 2, 2020 1:10 pm

Never forget that pH is a logarithmic scale, not a linear one, so a move of, say, three “points” in the pH scale is actually a one thousand-fold change in the concentration of hydrogen ions.

Spuyten Duyvil
February 2, 2020 1:12 pm

Willis, in the anecdote at the end of the post about Hawaii and stuff, you mention your “old Drill Instructor.” Was that DI at MCRD San Diego, or NTC San Diego?

Spuyten Duyvil
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
February 2, 2020 5:30 pm

Wow. Had not previously seen that bio from nine years ago. About the point you landed at Bethesda, I thought, “how is this story not a movie already?” By the time you left Letterman, I thought, “gonna have to be a movie franchise.” And at the end, I thought, “a long running franchise.” Awesome story.
Cheers, SD

HD Hoese
February 2, 2020 1:19 pm

I’ve eaten fresh crabs in lots of places and Dungeness is about as good as it gets, Spanners in Australia, Stone Crabs in the Gulf pretty close. Also have collected blue crabs in a pH below 7, and they bury sometimes in even lower. By the way diel refers to the whole 24hr period, where some of us have studied the whole period, pH, oxygen, alkalinity and all sorts of chemicals go up and down. Park, K, D. W. Hood and H. T. Odum. 1958. Diurnal pH variation in Texas bays and its application to primary production estimation. Publications of the Institute of Marine Science University of Texas. 5:47-64. Of course cycles are bigger in Texas and alkalinity goes up with salinity.

Due to lazy field work, most pH is measured during the day when it is higher. Lots of crustaceans bury during the day, come out at night.

Abolition Man
February 2, 2020 3:10 pm

Thank you, Willis, for another interesting post and for, possibly, providing me with makings for one of my favorite meals. Take one loaf of SF sourdough French bread, split and slathered with proprietary cheesy garlic butter mix, add two or more well chilled bottles of an oaky Chardonnay and serve with two large Dungeness crabs, cooked and well cleaned. I have had the good fortune to enjoy the above with several very attractive women in my younger days.
Here in New Mexico I rarely get the chance to eat fresh seafood so I stick to the local favorites; steaks, pork chops, elk,oryx and antelope. Next time I’m visiting family in Commifornia I’ll get my seafood fix but,sadly, crab won’t be in season.

February 2, 2020 3:17 pm

To say I was stunned is a massive understatement.

Back in the late 60’s I had a similar encounter with a machine which encouraged me to “Drink Coke”.
We had a lengthy discussion and in the end I stormed out and consulted the trees.
They knew the truth and so did their relatives on the next ridge and the one beyond.
I will never forget that.

February 2, 2020 3:52 pm

Less than a month ago I ate some Dungeness, Snow, and King crab legs and claws at Joe’s Crab Shack at the end of the pier at Daytona beach then a couple days later ate some wonderful rock crab claws at another place along the intercoastal. Their shells were hard as ever and their meat as delicious as ever.

February 2, 2020 5:47 pm


John Johnston
February 2, 2020 8:15 pm

Heh heh. Pthiris pubis…

Now there’s a memory of the 60s I had not recalled for some time.

Reply to  John Johnston
February 2, 2020 10:20 pm

Known by some of us medics that have treated cases of pediculosis pubis, as Saber Tooth Crotch Crickets.

William Larson
February 2, 2020 8:27 pm

Mr. Eschenbach (re “Gerald Hopkins saw it well”): The dude’s name is Gerard, not Gerald, and he likes to go by “Gerard Manley Hopkins”.

Michael S. Kelly
February 2, 2020 9:17 pm

Mr. Eschenbach, your life story just gets more and more fascinating. Have you a biography? If not, would you like a biographer? Not me, I hasten to add. I’m not one. But I’m sure a Kickstarter campaign could be used to hire one.

John Johnston
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly
February 2, 2020 9:29 pm

I warmly recommend his blog, “Skating under the Ice”, which in part is autobiographical. Fascinating. I doubt any biographer could do better.

Alexander Vissers
February 3, 2020 12:10 am

This proves: good research is hard and good science even harder and generally expensive. And on climate change topics generally scarce.

February 3, 2020 1:14 am

Hey, this post has been a real joy!

Thanks again, Willis

February 3, 2020 1:44 am

I keep coming back to the official position advanced in the SPM and AR5 (2013).
At B5 of the SMP, this appears-
“.Ocean acidification is quantified by decreases in pH.The pH of ocean surface water has decreased by 0.1+since the beginning of the industrial era ( high confidence),corresponding to a 26% increase in hydrogen ion concentration (see figure SPM 4) (3.8, Box 3.2)”
Figure SPM 4(b) is a rather simple graph of Surface Ocean CO2 and pH taken from 3 stations in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans with pH units in the y axis declining from some 8.12 to some 8.07 units.
So from some data from some initial point, there has allegedly been a 26% increase in hydrogen ion concentration over 170 years.
As we are often reminded by mainstream climate scientists, the pH scale is logarithmic meaning that the number of hydrogen ions is multiplied by ten for each incremental unit decrease between 14 and 0.
Thus a solution with a pH of 1 has 10 times the hydrogen ion concentration of a solution with pH 2 and one hundred times that of a solution with pH 3, and so on.
So, given a long history of ocean buffering and natural variability in pH, and the self evident fact that marine organisms thrive across a wide alkalinity range,I am bemused that the IPCC and its followers are impressed by a “26% increase in hydrogen ion concentration” since 1850.
And yet the claim of “ocean acidification”is regularly thrown out by mainstream scientists as a serious problem.
Am I missing something?

Reply to  Herbert
February 3, 2020 11:21 am

Particularly since the pH scale was only invented in 1909.

Reminds me of H. L. Menckens comment when told that president Harding was dead: “How could they tell?”

Thomas Mark Schaefer
February 3, 2020 5:48 am

Anomalocaris artistic rendering: comment image

Right out of “Aliens”. A face hugger with two tentacles.

Reply to  Thomas Mark Schaefer
February 3, 2020 11:29 am

Actually they were probably rather slow and feeble predators, that were outcompeted once cephalopods and “fish” (broadly speaking) evolved.
Mostly they were gone by the Ordovician, though a single species is known from the Devonian.

February 3, 2020 6:33 am

Looking at the enlarged pic of that ‘crab’ it leads me to wonder … are they all left handed or clawed to rotate in a clockwise fashion? Seems that mobility would be primarily limited to clockwise rotational rather than a linearly direction. Maybe that is why they seem to just run around in the same area and get your attention as to their mobility handicap! Support your local Mobility Handicapped Crab Foundation today!

Tom Abbott
February 3, 2020 8:32 am

Thanks Willis, and all the excellent commenters. WUWT is truly a school online. A real pleasure to read, made so by everyone involved, especially excellent posters like Willis. There are a lot of special people populating this website.

February 3, 2020 5:01 pm

Ok, I am completely uninformed about this, but perhaps someone here can provide an educated response?

I often feel guilty while enjoying an “all you can eat” Dungeness crab feast, but being from the Prairies I only partake when I make it to the west coast a couple of times per year, so I power through and enjoy my favourite sea food.

However, seeing the gluttony all around me, I can’t help but wonder:

The extraction of the crab from the ocean is in effect a mining operation. We are extracting all of the minerals that the ocean provided to make the crab, but yet we just take the spent carcasses and shells and dump them into a landfill.

Could this “mining” operation be damaging to the ocean as a whole? By extracting but not replacing?

Just an uneducated thought I have while gorging myself…..

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
February 3, 2020 6:30 pm

Many many thanks Willis!! I’ll be booking a trip out west and will be sure to have several plates of Dungeness! This time guilt free LOL.

I will be sure to check out that link as well.

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
February 4, 2020 5:48 am

It will be Bellingham Wash. I’m afraid. But thanks for the gracious invite. Perhaps someday!

Andrew Ward
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
February 14, 2020 9:50 am

1.25g Mg/l looked awfully high to me. Are you sure you don’t mean 1.25mg Mg/l?


Richard G.
Reply to  Travis
February 3, 2020 6:04 pm

This also applies to the impact that dams have in obstructing salmon and sea run trout from former opper reaches of rivers. The fish convey nutrients to the headwaters and spawn out and die. Bears, birds and insects convey these nutrients into the forest, fertilizing the forest with the ocean’s bounty. Rinse, repeat.

Johann Wundersamer
February 14, 2020 10:07 am

“Changes in fishing regulations, changes in season length, changes in the number of boats, things like excess domoic acid making the crabs poisonous and delaying the season openings, all of these kinds of issues can influence the total landings of any marine species.

Plus the information is kind of hard to find. I did find this, from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, clearly the most confusingly crabby chart imaginable”

What’s “confusingly” with the “Dungeness crabs commercial landings” chart –

If nothing else then “Californian landings” are leading, next “Washington” follows in line to: both cal. + wash. in par.

What am I missing.

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