South Alabama's Dauphin Island Sea Lab is starting a program to track American horseshoe crabs.
The laboratory describes its new tagging program as the first of its kind on the northern Gulf Coast to investigate populations of the odd-looking creatures. The crabs have been studied extensively in other parts of the country, but never along Alabama's coastline.
Marine scientist Ruth Carmichael of the University of South Alabama is beginning the study with an undergraduate student from Colorado College, Sean Carter. They're testing the idea that salinity levels around Mobile Bay result in fewer horseshoe crabs on the Alabama coast compared to adjacent areas.
Animals will be tagged with identifying information before being released back into the wild. Researchers are also tracking the amount and timing of molts found on shore to provide data on crab population in the area.
Horseshoe crabs have a number of interesting scientific properties, most notably their blood. Their copper-rich blue blood is used to detect bacterial toxins in both human and animal patients.