TechA disaster in Alaska. Scientists are mentioning Russia

A disaster in Alaska. Scientists are mentioning Russia

Snow crab fishing.
Snow crab fishing.
Images source: © Getty Images | © 2021 Bloomberg Finance LP

9:43 PM EDT, October 24, 2023

Scientists are returning to a surprising and mysterious environmental disaster that occurred in the Bering Sea near the coasts of Alaska. As scientists estimate, within 3 years the population of snow crabs there has decreased by as much as 10 billion. Researchers do not believe overfishing is the cause. So what happened? There are results of studies and two theories.

Science Magazine reports on a natural disaster observed in the Bering Sea. Scientists studying waters near Alaska are noting an unprecedented decline in the snow crab population.

According to the statistics, between 2018 and 2021, approximately 10 billion individuals of this species have disappeared from the Bering Sea. This is a significant scale, which led the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to close the fishing season of 2022/2023 last year. This action was taken, of course, in an attempt to stop the negative trend.

The disappearing popular crab in the Bering Sea. Scientists' theories

Several theories have emerged about the mysterious disappearance of a large number of crabs. One of them suggests that the decline - at least in part - is due to rising ocean temperatures. Higher temperatures, in fact, lead to these animals becoming sick and having significantly less food.

This is suggested by studies from the American agency NOAA. The temperature of the waters increased from 32 to about 37.4 °F in the feeding areas of snow crabs between 2017-2018, which also significantly reduced their feeding grounds.

A high demand for color coupled with a small area to graze (compared to historically occupied territories) suggests that hunger probably played a role in the disappearance of over 10 billion snow crabs. The same was true for the Pacific cod population in the Gulf of Alaska in 2016, according to the study summary.

Scientists point to another lead. It's possible that some crabs have relocated to Russian territorial waters. At this time, however, it's unclear if this is true and what the scale of migration is, as data from this area is very poorly accessible.

Related content