Studying an underwater volcano is hard enough without a spider crab getting in the way. In an absolutely delightful field dispatch, Jes Burns of Oregon Public Broadcasting tells the story of a crab, some geologists just trying to set up their equipment, and a remotely operated vehicle named Jason that, from the sound of it, is locked in seemingly eternal crustacean combat.
“We expect sabotage, crab sabotage. Because there’s obviously a battle going on between Jason and the crabs at Axial Seamount,” Oregon State University volcanologist Bill Chadwick told Burns.
Burns is embedded on a ship with Chadwick and other researchers, reporting on the serious scientific effort to study the Axial Seamount, an underwater volcano 300 miles off the Oregon coast. As a part of the research, the scientists were attempting to install seismometers on the ocean floor: instruments that record movement and could help tell them about the inner workings of the volcano. But before they could seal off one of those instruments with a big plastic bubble, a big, spiky spider crab decided that it would be a perfect perch.
Animal interference is a pretty regular issue with seismometers, even those on land. They are designed to monitor earthquakes, but they pick up any kind of motion, and animals move a lot.
Picking up animal activity can be useful: scientists have used the equipment in other contexts to track the rumble of elephant herds. But it can also be mildly annoying. Whale songs have been known to drown out evidence of earthquakes. And bears, in particular, have a tendency to maul geology equipment. (Bears “encounter” seismometers so regularly in Alaska that there are scientific write-ups of the dynamic, with researchers cautioning that “future seismic experiments in remote regions of bear country should carefully consider the impacts of bears.”)
Crabs, apparently, fall under the mildly annoying category, and scientists on the boat had to figure out how to shoo the crab away so they could get their volcano data — would they “slurp” it with the vacuum? Menace it with Jason’s titanium claw? All of the above? Would the eventually removed crab come back for revenge?
The crab tale and others like it are a joyful reminder that science can be fun and even funny — often when you least expect it. To find out how it all played out, go read (or listen) to the full story of the “crabotage” here.