Night at the Aquarium
Microbial Solutions
Brian Thill

Night at the Aquarium

Tag teaming to learn more about South Carolina’s horseshoe crab populations  

Horseshoe crabs are an ecologically important animal in our marine ecosystem and an animal that has a great impact on human health. Understanding what horseshoe crab populations are doing is a team effort, and there are research groups all along the Eastern Seaboard studying their habitats and habits.

This spring the South Carolina Aquarium collected Atlantic horseshoe crab data over the course of 18 days for ongoing South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) research on the beach located on the south side of the building. For two decades, SCDNR biologists have studied horseshoe crab numbers across the coast to keep tabs on the health of this important species in South Carolina. The tagging and survey data collected each year at different sites help answer questions about how healthy the state’s horseshoe crab population is, where horseshoe crabs travel, and even whether they prefer certain beaches for spawning.

With a vision of leading the way to connect people with water, wildlife, and wild places this is just one example of a conservation program the South Carolina Aquarium is involved in. It’s a way for us to “walk the conservation walk” and a great way to involve our staff and the guests.

A team led by aquarium staff and volunteers met from April through June on the evenings of the full and new moons and two nights thereafter to record horseshoe crab nesting and tag individuals. As the horseshoe crabs came on shore these animal were measured, sexed and tagged. The tags attached to the horseshoe crabs are managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to collect additional data by observers like you calling in the identification number.

Veteran staff at the aquarium can recall a period of time when horseshoe crab nesting wasn’t observed on the beach located on the south side of the aquarium. Recently those times have changed and within the past five years our beach is becoming a regular stop for nesting horseshoe crabs.

In addition to the science happening on the side of the building, interpreters from the South Carolina Aquarium use the nesting season as an opportunity for a “teachable moment.” Interpreters stationed on the ramp engage with guests and create awareness of the importance of this amazing animal and its conservation connection. Inside guests also have the opportunity to see horseshoe crabs in the touch tank and learn more about the role Charles River Labs, which uses the horseshoe crab’s distinctive blue blood for biomedical purposes, plays in conservation.