August 6, 2014
By Beth Carducci
It all started as a search for hermit crab conventions. I wanted to go to a convention, meet new “hermie” lovers, share stories, swap pictures, etc. It was then that I saw the article for The Miss Crustacean Pageant, on my online search. I read about it and became very excited. The article explained the Pageant was to be forty years old, and was also mentioned as a question on the game show Jeopardy! When I voiced my excitement to The Hermit Crab Association, my enthusiasm was much less than what it had been moments before… I was told that the pageant was nothing more than a tourist attraction, all the vendors really cared about was the sale of hermit crabs. The exploitation of the poor hermit crabs, sold in those awful wire cages, with gravel, and a little sponge. Many people wrote to me, telling me that they knew someone that had gone there, and were horrified at what they saw. My heart sank. I wasn’t planning on going after that, why should I? After all, it was nothing but a show, and the crabs were the unwilling stars. But then I thought, I had to go, and do something. I had an idea. I would compile a list of information, stating the proper requirements for hermit crabs to flourish in captivity. It was the least I could do. It took me almost two months to gather the information. I made so many copies, my printer ran out of ink. I went to the Staples in Ocean City, N.J. to make more copies. Armed with my info care sheets, I went to the pageant, and this is what happened….
First of all, the pageant consists of two events: First event is the Pageant, which contestants and their pet crabs, who parade around an area on the beach in front of judges. The children have cardboard boxes that are decorated with themes. (much like the school projects, where they decorate and put together something like the solar system inside a cardboard box cut out) Some entries were Taxi Crab (taxi cab) Crabunzel (Rapunzel fairy tail) Crab wars (starwars) Copa Crabana. There are 1st 2nd and 3rd place winners. First place gets a large trophy with a cucumber inside. 2nd and 3rd place receive ribbons. The crabs are on the boxes as they are shown to the judges. First place crab walks down a runway bedecked with flowers, while a woman, Suzanne Muldowney sings the Miss Crustacean Song. It is quite hilarious. I would like to mention, at the beginning of the pageant, the MC of the event explains as follows: Please do not let your crabs go free on the beach. They will not survive, they come from tropical environments. They need heat, and humidity. Please pick up a care sheet after the pageant. If you do not wish to keep the crab after the pageant, bring it back to the office, and we will find a home for the crab. I was happy to hear that they at least gave out information on the animals.
The second part of the pageant is the King of Klutz hermit crab races, sanctioned by Nascrab. Hermit crabs are placed on an eight foot oval table. A bugler sounds the call to the starting gate before every race. Crabs are covered by a cake dish which acts as a starting gate. The cover is raised, and the crabs start walking, first crab outside the circular line wins. There are several races.
The Miss Crustacean Pageant has been named one of the ten outstanding special events in the country by U.S. News and World Report, and featured on London T.V. and the London Sunday Times. It has been translated into Japanese, German, Spanish etc. It has also been featured in the Wall Street Journal and many Sunday supplements and magazines plus the Nickelodeon TV Network, NBC, ABC, and CBS TV.
There were at lease a couple of hundred people there, and this seems to be a very popular event. However, it should not be allowed, as it is as you may imagine, stressful for the poor hermit crabs. I witnessed one woman who was the mother of two children who had their crabs in the pageant, drop the hermit crab three times onto the sand. It was not a far drop, but a drop x 3 nonetheless . Then, she did the unthinkable…..the poor crab would not come out of its shell because it had been dropped a few times, and she wanted to race the crab in the King of Klutz race after the pageant. So, she poured bottled water on the crab to get it to come out of its shell……that is when I stood up and asked her what she planned on doing with the crab after the races. I wanted that crab. She told me she was a teacher, and used the crab for school. I was willing to offer her $20 for that crab, and if she declined, I was going to offer more money in $5 increments until she surrendered the crab to me. I also found out she and her crab won this event two years in a row. She disappeared into the crowd and was nowhere to be found. I kept looking for her but did not find her. I cannot believe a person who is a teacher could be that cruel to an animal, and I wish I had located her so I could reprimand her on her behavior. not raise my voice, but voice my concerns. I did manage to hand her a care sheet before she left. I did stay on the boardwalk, hoping to see her but I did not. I hung around and handed out care sheets to customers that bought crabs from the stores. No one was the wiser, they probably thought I was working there. The employees and owners were inside so they did not know I was handing out the sheets , so there were no confrontations. I was turned down for permits from the city, as they thought I would hurt the businesses by handing out the information. I did not let that deter me from my mission. I did what I came to do, give out proper information on hermit crab care, and hope the new crab owners care enough to give their pets the care they deserve. Am I going next year? Absolutely! I have a duty to notify others on proper hermit crab care. It is the least I can do for these wonderful creatures.
While I certainly do not approve of this pageant /crab race, there really isn’t anything I can do to stop it, as this is a very popular tourist attraction. Maybe if many of us were to protest next year, we could sign petitions and go to Ocean City to speak with the administrators. We could point out everything that is wrong with the pageant and races, exploitation of animals for fun, etc. but, it would take many signatures and such to accomplish anything. If people were interested, I would be more than happy to help with organizing and getting information on how to get the city to listen to our concerns. I think it would be worth a try, the crabs certainly deserve it.