The spectacular spider crab migration at Rye Pier in Australia is without exaggeration one of the highlights of my life every year! You may have seen it featured on a David Attenborough special, or on the incredible Disney ‘Oceans’ film? To see it in real life is – quite simply – breath-taking, mind-boggling and gobsmacking all at once. I was devastated to be in hospital this time last year, fearing that I would miss my third migration. But inexplicably, the crabs did not migrate in 2013 as expected; however, they must have heard that I had my fins back on this year, because when around 10,000 crabs appeared beneath the pier last weekend, they really put on quite a show!
Each year, the first clue that the migration may soon begin is a drop of water temperature by several degrees, just before the beginning of winter. As if on cue, a pre-migration of several hundred crabs arrives at the pier; when the word begins to spread, divers near and far get that amazing sense of excitement some people feel when the Christmas decorations start going up months before the actual event. To widespread disappointment, the crabs seem to vanish as quickly as they appeared, disappearing to the depths of Port Phillip Bay to prepare for the full migration five to six weeks later!
Slowly at first, then in their thousands, crabs start to flood into the waters around Rye Pier to moult, mate, climbing into towers up to five crabs tall until there is no sand in sight. Most of the newly moulted, soft-bodied bright orange crabs manage to escape being eaten by massive stingrays, angel sharks, fiddler rays and their cannibalistic counterparts. They gorge themselves on discarded flesh, and once their soft new shells have hardened, they recede en masse back into the ocean within a week, leaving behind them the shattered rubble of moulted shells amongst other tell-tale signs of their destructive impact on the otherwise tranquil underside of the pier.
I filmed this video on June 8 and 9, as well as my previously posted short film showing the migration from the perspective of a seahorse that cradled itself into my camera for as long as possible for protection. I love experiencing the spider crabs en masse, but I also feel as though each individual crab has its own story to tell, and I hope that I have managed to tell some of their unique stories well for you through this short film. One particular crab I encountered haunted and inspired like no other underwater creature before it. I hope that this short film I made in its honour gives you courage that – no matter what life may throw at you – you must never, ever give up!
Love and bubbles,