Monday, September 14, 2009

Coconut Crab (やしがに)

Learning to handle crabs during my stint in Peace Corps turned out to be a pretty valuable life skill. I've since used it in the Caribbean and here in Japan, as well as during this most recent trip back to Palau. During that trip I learned something I didn't pick up the first time around: how to handle coconut crabs. Coconut crabs are sort of a different ballgame because their pincers can actually take your finger off (I mean break it, then pull it off). Their name is derived from one of their sources of food: they'll climb a coconut tree, snip off the coconut, climb back down, find the coconut, bore a hole into it, then eat it.

So yesterday I was at the beach and I happened to be looking under a big log when I saw this guy. We both realized simultaneously that he was not in optimal positioning and we each reacted quickly. I went over the log and swiped the brush out of the way while grabbing a stick to use for distraction. He tried and failed to back up against something which would keep his pincers between me and his back. I intended to just reach in and grab him, but he got ahold of my 'distraction stick' and I just lifted him up and out.

I only wanted a picture of him at the time, but when I took my camera out the memory card was full with undeletable material. So I figured I better bring him home. I showed him around the school and to all the people who would think it was cool before taking him back to the same beach and releasing him today.

He's really a big crab and I did contemplate eating him. But I ate the last big coconut crab I caught on Zamami (two years ago) and felt a little bad afterwards. After some internet research I found out that crabs this size are probably 6-7 years old. And the meat provided isn't even enough for one meal. It's good, but not worth the time it took him to get that big.


Wren said...

Coconut crabs are awesome. They were pretty common on Palmyra. We would go out looking for them just to get some good pictures. Eating them was out of the question, though, as they are quite endangered. When you said you felt bad, did you mean conscience bad or upset stomach bad?

Dave said...

When you say endangered, do you mean on Palmyra or worldwide? Since Palau I've been a little curious about wordwide 'endangered' designations, mostly because the turtle population in Palau has weathered thousands of years of hunting and is still strong (with a legal hunting season to this day). Also, and this is purely anecdotal, but the green turtle population here is tremendous, even though they are 'endangered' worldwide. The problem with worldwide designations is they don't take into account the health of localized populations, which could be doing fine (and in the case of Palau, fine enough to support hunting).

Anyway.. your question is pertinent, actually, as some people told me I would get sick from eating the crab. Apparently there is a toxin that is occasionally found in these crabs? But no, I didn't feel it after the last one I ate - it was a conscience thing.

Amber Ngiraikelau said...

Dave! I do not know if you remember me but I know I met you in Palau. I have an Uncle Ben and he gave you the Palauan name Boisek =) I was a bit young when I met you and I just came across your old blogs and definitely recognized you. I hope all is well!