Wednesday, March 03, 2004

The Crabs are Coming! The Crabs are Coming!

Yikes! Europe is facing an invasion, courtesy of the Daily Telegraph and Neil Gaiman:

Stalin's last army - hordes of gigantic crabs on their way to invade Europe

By Julius Strauss in Kirkenes, northern Norway
(Filed: 28/02/2004)

Millions of giant Pacific crabs, whose ancestors were brought to Europe by Joseph Stalin in the 1930s, are marching south along Norway's coast, devouring everything in their path.

The monster crabs, which can weigh up to 25lb and have a claw-span of more than three feet, are proving so resilient that scientists fear they could end up as far south as Gibraltar.

Energised by a mysterious population explosion a decade ago, whole armies of the crustaceans - known as the Kamchatka or Red King Crabs - have already advanced about 400 miles along the roof of Europe, overwhelming the ports of northern Norway.

They now number more than 10 million and have reached the Lofoten Islands off north-west Scandinavia, leaving in their wake what one expert described as "an underwater desert".

In a graphic display of the extent of the crab's submarine domination, some photographs of the ocean floor in Kirkenes in northern Norway show a writhing mass of the ugly, spiny animals.

Northern clams and other shellfish, once so numerous that divers could scoop up handfuls, have been all but eliminated.

Lars Petter Oie, a Norwegian diver who lives nearby, has seen the fjord outside his front door taken over by the crabs.

Plunging through a hole in the ice, another diver surfaced within two minutes with a huge specimen. A snap of its claw is enough to remove a man's finger.

Mr Oie said: "I have been to conferences on the crab and one thing the experts agree on is that they have rarely come across a species that is so adaptable.

"It can survive on almost anything: kelp, dead fish, seaweed and fish eggs. It even eats crushed shells to get the calcium it needs for its shell."

The relentless advance of the crabs has led to calls from some Norwegian marine experts for a government-subsidised "blitz" to try to halt their relentless march south.

Andreas Tveteraas, an analyst in Oslo with the international World Wildlife Fund, said that urgent steps needed to be taken.

"This animal has no natural predators and it's an alien species in the Barents Sea. That's why its numbers are exploding.

"Some scientists say it will stay in the north because it likes the temperature but others think it can go as far south as Gibraltar."

For years the Norwegian government has ignored the underwater advance, undecided whether to treat the crabs as a resource or a pest.

The animal's legs are considered a delicacy and fetch top dollar in Japan and America. Even in Oslo, consumers pay around 200 Norwegian kronor (£15) a pound.

Thank God! I can finally use that famous line, "Something he disagreed with ate him."

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