Dog and cat lovers continually debate about which animal is man's best friend. But ask marine education specialist Bill Hall his opinion, and he will tell you that the hands-down winner is the horseshoe crab. While few may know it, this prehistoric creature with the helmet-shaped body and spear-like tail has saved countless human lives.
On Thursday, May 27, at 7 p.m. at the University of Delaware's College of Marine Studies in Lewes, Hall will present "The Horseshoe Crab: Man's Best Friend, or How Well Do I Know the Crab That Saved My Life?" His talk is part of the college's Ocean Currents Lecture Series, which will be held at the Hugh R. Sharp Campus once a month through September.
"Horseshoe crabs are critical to the welfare of migrating shorebirds that stop along the Delaware Bay each spring to fuel up for the flight north to Arctic nesting grounds. Some of these birds double and even triple their weight by feasting on horseshoe crab eggs," Hall says.
"Yet the horseshoe crab is just as important to humans as it is to wildlife," he notes. "This animal's blood contains a unique clotting agent that the pharmaceutical industry uses to test intravenous drugs for bacteria. No IV drug reaches your hospital pharmacy without its horseshoe crab test. So if you or someone you love has ever been hospitalized, you owe a lot to the horseshoe crab."
As the marine education specialist for the University's Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service, Hall develops marine science education programs for teachers and students, as well as writes popular publications about marine life that are used by schools and agencies throughout the region, from the National Park Service to the Smithsonian Institution.
Hall also helps organize a regional census of the Delaware Bay's spawning horseshoe crab population. Now in its sixth year, the census is conducted on selected bay beaches by volunteers from Delaware and New Jersey. This year, the census will be expanded to additional beaches along both sides of the bay with support from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.
"Delaware Bay is the world's population center for horseshoe crabs, but recently, we've noted a significant downturn in the animal's population," Hall says. "Scientists believe the decline is due to overfishing of the crab for eel and conch bait and to the loss of the sandy beaches it needs for spawning. The census is designed to help resource managers and scientists gain a better understanding of the horseshoe crab's status and what we can do to guard our 'golden goose.' "
Hall received his bachelor's degree in education from Bloomsburg State College, his master's degree in biology from the University of the Pacific Graduate School of Marine Science, and his doctorate in education from the University of Delaware.
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 Hall's presentation, please contact the college at (302) 645-4279. For more information, visit the college's Web site at www.ocean.udel.edu.