Blue crabs--steamed pink to perfection--rank high on seafood lovers' lists. But recent reports suggest the crab population is declining. While overfishing has been blamed for the downturn, Chuck Epifanio, a marine biologist at the University of Delaware College of Marine Studies, points out that natural forces also play an important role in controlling the local abundance of blue crabs.
At 7 p.m., on Thursday, April 29, at the Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes, Epifanio will present "A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean: All You Ever Wanted to Know about Blue Crabs and More," the first talk in the college's 1999 Ocean Currents Lecture Series. Initiated last year in honor of the International Year of the Ocean, the series was so popular it will be held again this year, once a month, from April through October.
"From an economic standpoint, the blue crab is the most valuable shellfish in the Mid-Atlantic region, so it's critical that we understand the factors that control its population," Epifanio says. "While fishing pressure is one concern, natural factors such as winds and currents can have serious impacts on the blue crab during its early life stages."
The average female blue crab spawns more than a million eggs each year. When they hatch, the larval crabs resemble tiny dots and float along at the mercy of the currents.
Using larval crab collectors and satellite-tracked drifters, Epifanio and oceanographer Richard Garvine are developing a computer model that maps the travels of the larval crabs in Delaware Bay. The model shows that blue crabs spawned at the mouth of the bay are carried rapidly southward by the Delaware Coastal Current. Some of these crabs are later shuttled northward by summertime winds for re-entry into the bay, where they grow into adults.
This study of blue crab dispersal and recruitment, funded by the University's Sea Grant College Program, helps complete a research story that Epifanio has been developing for the past two decades and which is widely regarded by the scientific community as the benchmark in the field.
A member of the college's faculty since 1971, Epifanio also conducts research on other crab species that may be found in Delaware Bay, including the mud crab, a key predator of oysters, and the Japanese shore crab, a non-native species that now inhabits the bay. He and his colleagues also are studying the crabs that live near hydrothermal vents in the Pacific Ocean.
Epifanio received his bachelor's degree in biology from Lafayette University and his doctorate in zoology from Duke University.
His lecture will begin at 7 p.m. in Room 104, Cannon Laboratory, at the Hugh R. Sharp Campus, 700 Pilottown Road, Lewes. The hour-long talk will be followed by light refreshments.
While the lecture is free and open to the public, seating is limited and reservations are required. To reserve your seat for Epifanio's presentation, please contact the college at (302) 645-4279.
For more information, visit the college's Web site at www.ocean.udel.edu.