Channel Islands National Park: Along the Shore of Scorpion Anchorage, Santa Cruz Island

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Western Gull

It was about 2:45pm on on Sunday, May 29, and we had about 45 minutes to an hour left on Santa Cruz Island before Patrick, Sean, and I would have to board the ferry that would take us back across the Santa Barbara Channel to Ventura. So we decided to stay close to the beach at Scorpion Anchorage from which passengers were being ferried in dinghies to the actual ferry because the pier had been damaged in a storm.

We explored the rocky shoreline east toward Scorpion Rock.

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Scorpion Rock

Out past Scorpion Rock to the east the persistent Marine Layer was finally, finally beginning to burn off.

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But back behind us to the west over the bulk of Santa Cruz Island, the cloud cover was thick as ever.

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Beneath our feet, the beach was colorfully cobblestoned with rock that had eroded away from the islands and been smoothed over generations.

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The cliffs around Scorpion Harbor are volcanic in origin, likely formed as the motion of continental plates and the movement of the Santa Monica Mountains and the Channel Islands thinned the sea floor and allowed magma to billow out through the Earth’s crust.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Remains of a Pelagic Red Crab

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Western Gulls

We quickly reached the eastern end of the beach, traveling beyond which would involve rock scrambling, if it were possible at all. So we began to pay closer attention to everything around us, from the gulls sitting on the rocks to the pelicans soaring above to the head of a Sea Lion that made a brief appearance out in the water.

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Western Gulls

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Western Gulls

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Double-Crested Cormorants and Brown Pelicans (flying)

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Brown Pelicans

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Pelagic Red Crab

And then Patrick discovered a little red crab in the cobbles.

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Pelagic Red Crab

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Pelagic Red Crab

It was a Pelagic Red Crab, which usually spends its time in the open ocean off the western coast of Mexico. The El Niño weather patterns from 2016 had blown whole casts of crabs north, and thousands of them had washed up on the beaches of San Diego just the week before. Here they were present at the Channel Islands too (although not in the thousands).

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Pelagic Red Crab

After we took a couple of photos, Patrick placed the crab gently back in the cobbles, and immediately a wave flipped it upside down. There it lay helplessly flapping its tail, an action that propels it in the water, but was clearly useless on land.

So Patrick righted the crab, and we watched until a wave pulled it back into the ocean.

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Pelagic Red Crab

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Western Gulls

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That erosion from the cliffs of Santa Cruz Island is ongoing is obvious from the boulder field beneath them.

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Remains of a Pelagic Red Crab

Scattered throughout the cobbles were gruesome little packages of consumed Pelagic Red Crab. They were compacted, undigested exoskeletons of the crabs, passed by birds, presumably, which had swallowed the crabs whole, digested the meat and organs, and expelled the exoskeleton.

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Patrick found another Pelagic Red Crab struggling in the cobbles. Or perhaps it was the same one, obdurately trying to claim a homestead on the beach.

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Pelagic Red Crab

Or maybe it had just missed Patrick.

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Pelagic Red Crab

Regardless, Patrick and Sean tried to put it back again with questionable success as you can see in the video below.

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After our adventure with the Pelagic Red Crab, it was time to move on back down the beach and gather for the dinghies.

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Scorpion Harbor Pier

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Brown Pelicans

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