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.
During a special lunchtime lecture on Thursday, January 13, at the Hotel du Pont, Hall will present "The Horseshoe Crab: Man's Best Friend, or How Well Do I Know the Crab That Saved My Life?" The lecture, which includes lunch, is the second in a four-part series sponsored by the University of Delaware Graduate College of Marine Studies and the Sea Grant College Program.
As the marine education specialist for the University's Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service, Hall develops programs in aquatic science for teachers and students, as well as writes popular publications about marine life that are used by agencies ranging from the National Park Service to the Smithsonian Institution. He also helps coordinate a regional census of the Delaware Bay's spawning horseshoe crab population.
"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," Hall says. "Some birds double and even triple their weight, feeding on the horseshoe crab's protein-rich eggs."
Yet the horseshoe crab is just as important to humans as it is to wildlife, according to Hall. "This animal's blood contains a unique clotting agent that the pharmaceutical industry uses to test intravenous drugs for bacteria," he notes. "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."
While the Delaware Bay is the world's population center for horseshoe crabs, Hall's annual census indicates that the animal's population is declining sharply. Hall says that in the past decade, the number of spawning females has fallen from 1.2 million to about 400,000.
"Scientists believe the downturn is due to overfishing of the crab for eel and conch bait and to the loss of the sandy beaches it needs for spawning," he says. "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.
The lecture, which includes lunch, begins at noon at the Hotel du Pont. The cost is $10 per person, and advance reservations are required. To make reservations, call (302) 831-2841, or send an e-mail to MarineCom@udel.edu.
Upcoming lectures include "A Voyage to Life's Extreme: The Deep Sea" on March 14, and "A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean: All You Ever Wanted to Know about Blue Crabs and More" on May 23.