Conserve Wildlife Blog

National Geographic covers CWF horseshoe crab work in Delaware Bay

July 7th, 2020

by Carrie Arnold – National Geographic

An Atlantic horseshoe crab lies on the beach in Stone Harbor, New Jersey, not far from Delaware Bay. Photograph by Joel Sartore.

National Geographic’s Carrie Arnold recently wrote about the role horseshoe crabs and their “special” blood are set to play in the creation of a COVID-19 vaccine. She spoke with CWF partner Larry Niles about the horseshoe crab’s importance to the health of the Delaware Bay and what this means for the bay’s future.

Check out the excerpt below and read the full article on National Geographic!

Each spring, guided by the full moon, hundreds of thousands of horseshoe crabs clamber onto beaches across the U.S. mid-Atlantic to lay their eggs. For hungry birds, it’s a cornucopia. For drug companies, it’s a crucial resource for making human medicines safe.

That’s because these animals’ milky-blue blood provides the only known natural source of limulus amebocyte lysate, a substance that detects a contaminant called endotoxin. If even tiny amounts of endotoxin—a type of bacterial toxin—make their way into vaccines, injectable drugs, or other sterile pharmaceuticals such as artificial knees and hips, the results can be deadly.

Horseshoe crabs are bled at the Charles River Laboratory in Charleston, South Carolina.
Photo by Timothy Fadek.

In the 1980s and through the early 1990s, the process seemed sustainable. The pharmaceutical industry claimed that only three percent of the crabs they bled died. Population surveys showed that the crabs were plentiful, and conservationists didn’t place much value on the species, says Larry Niles, a biologist with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

But by the early 2000s, the picture began to shift. Annual horseshoe crab counts during spawning season revealed smaller numbers, and a 2010 study found that as many as 30 percent of the bled crabs ultimately died—10 times as many as first estimated.

Read more on National Geographic.

Click here to learn more about horseshoe crabs!

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