Lemming crab shells litter the sand 200 feet beneath the surface on Blacktip Island’s south end. Local biologists say the shells, found by technical scuba divers, confirm rumors of the crabs committing mass suicide the first of every year.
Technical scuba divers on a training dive Wednesday discovered what is believed to be Blacktip Island’s legendary lemming crab graveyard off the island’s remote southeast coast.
“The crab population drops dramatically every January, and we suspected a site like this existed,” said local wildlife manager Crusty Station said. “The salt-cured, faux-ivory carapaces wash up on south end beaches all the time. They’re the Holy Grail for beachcombers, jewelers and oriental homeopaths.
“They found the shells down past 200 feet, just below the bluff,” Station said. “Every indication is thousands of crabs charged off the cliff en masse.”
Lemmings crabs are a subspecies of the common Caribbean land crab, found only on Blacktip Island. Their name is derived from their suspected mass suicides, akin to those of the Scandinavian rodents.
“Where they go has always been a mystery,” long-time resident Frank Males said. “One day the island is overrun with crabs, the next there are none to be found. There’ve always been tales of them running off the bluff behind The Last Ballyhoo, but there’s also tales of a talking platypus back there, too.
“This evidence of mass suicide smacks of a post-holiday depression sort of thing,” Maples said. “It’s a stressful time for everyone.”
Island researchers are eager to study the site.
“We’d speculated that once the crab population hits a tipping point, something snaps species-wide,” Tiperon University-Blacktip behavioral biologist Porgy Cottonwick said. “The population shift from maximum carrying capacity to near extinction was more than natural predation or hungry holiday revelers could account for.
“Our studies will focus on whether this is an attempted migration gone wrong, or possibly an instinctive suicide urge to preserve the species,” Cottonwick said
Locals say such behavior is to be expected on the small Caribbean island.
“Biological urges are hard to overcome,” local handyman Dermott Bottoms said. “See this kind of thing at the Last Ballyhoo and the Sand Spit bars every night.
“See the same thing in divemasters, too,” Bottoms said. “Now they’re here, now they’re gone. Of course, divemasters aren’t killing themselves, but there’s those who wish they would.”
Island officials, meanwhile, have cordoned off the area to stop treasure hunters from diving to the extreme depths to collect the valuable shells.
“Those shells bring a pretty penny on the black market,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “Folks grind them up, use them for back pain. And as aphrodisiacs. But your chances of coming back alive from that deep are slim.
“We’re not going to have divers dying trying to get crab shells,” Marquette said. “They wash up dead on resort beaches, that’s bad for business.”