I remember all those nap times I spent watching the show “Crease o no” (“Believe it or not”)
I learned a lot about incredible animals and cultures from distant lands. What I never had imagined during those moments was that I would see all those wonderful things with my own two eyes one day.
Like, for example, that time when I witnessed a religious ceremony performed by an Indian community in caves near the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. There, some men carried frameworks with figures of their Gods on their shoulders. However, hooks attached to the framework were used to pierce the devotees’ skin in acts of contrition and penitence.
Another exotic and natural phenomenon in my distant memories was watching the migration of the horseshoe crabs, also called king crabs.
I remember they were showing the Japanese species of horseshoe crabs on the TV show, because a samurai’s head could be seen on the arthropod’s shell, believe it or not!
In fact, these animals are not real crabs, but rather prehistorical animals that appeared more than 450 million years ago and that are more related to spiders and scorpions than to crustaceous.
Moreover, during certain times of the year, they leave the depths of the sea to lay thousands of eggs on beaches. These eggs can be eaten by shorebirds that come also by the thousands to enjoy such a beautiful feast from the sea. To sum up, it’s an incredible animal I had the strong wish to see personally.
Of all the four horseshoe crab species still existing today, the one that can be found near the closest to Montreal is the Atlantic horseshoe crab; the other three are found in Asia.
In May 2008, I started working at the Montreal Biodome, which is a zoo and a museum in which I wanted to work at for many years; and I got hired in the end!
Plus, May was the best month to see the horseshoe crabs in the state of Delaware, United States. Within the few weeks left before my first day of work at the Biodome, I used my free days to travel to that area and meet those creatures. The full moon days in May were the best periods to see them because they chose those times to lay their eggs on the beaches.
For several months, I went to Delaware to study the species, contacting local groups of conservationists in charge of conducting censuses of the horseshoe crab population.
During a time, they were indiscriminately captured to be used as fish bait to meet laboratories’ needs, for their blood has an anticoagulant propriety. Today, the capture is regulated and we hope that their population number will continue to increase.
Finally, I contacted a woman is charge of night censuses and who invited me over to her home for a night so that we could go see them together.
I traveled by night from Montreal to Dover, the state capital where I finally arrived approximately 10 hours following my departure, and not before having to explain to American immigration officers that the reason I was heading to Dover was to participate to the census of horseshoe crabs, which sounded a bit odd, most likely because I was the first person who crossed the border for such a purpose…
There, I spent an entire day visiting museums and using the library as resting place and its washrooms, since the lady could only pick me up early evening, before the time for the census.
I waited for her in the rain at the indicated spot, crossing my fingers and hoping she would be here, or else I wouldn’t have known what to do. Thankfully, she arrived on time accompanied by two volunteers.
From there, we went to the beach and made a census totaling a big one horseshoe crab. I went to sleep that night at her place completely disappointed because I truly believed I would have seen the thousands of horseshoe crabs just like in the pictures!
Very early the next morning, we went to visit a park where we could see more of these invertebrates as well as the shorebirds that were also present to feed on the horseshoe crabs’ eggs. They were far away from where I was, and I had to use a telescope, but that was better than nothing.
The lady was quite impressed by my determination and my strong will to participate in the conduct of the census, even though I came from such a distance. So she decided to bring me to another beach, further away in a village. It was my last opportunity considering the fact that my bus from Montreal was leaving a few hours later, and although it wouldn’t have given us any time to eat, I preferred to continue and try to find horseshoe crabs.
And there they were; close to the high tide, just for us to see (there was nobody else on the beach). Sometimes they are flipped them over by the waves, and if no other waves flip them back, they will die on the beach.
That’s why a groups of conservationists created campaigns in other to ask beachgoers help turn the horseshoe crab over when they spot them. With this aim in mind, I dedicated the last hour of my stay in Delaware watching birds, horseshoe crabs and turn over those that couldn’t do it themselves.
I would have stayed there and kept on doing that task with pleasure, however I had to go back to Montreal to start my new job at the Biodome. Luckily, I realized that I was done watching the horseshoe crabs in two of the best beaches in Delaware, during the best time of the year, what’s more.
Although they made it difficult for me the first night, I made it! I even found two tagged crabs for the long-term population study started a while ago. I was able to send the information in Montreal and participate in this way in the study.
As a result from this experience, I participated in a documentary on the horseshoe crabs-shorebirds phenomenon. I even gave a speech for the Montreal Gem and Mineral Club, I thus ended up being a mini-specialist in this field!
But the most important thing is that I fulfilled my dream despite how difficult it was to arrange the trip and meet these creatures! Believe it or not!
Author: Helena Arroyo
Translation: Noëlla Moussa