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Why are thousands of dead crabs washing up on English beaches?

Some 25,000 dead velvet swimming crabs have washed ashore on England's Thanet Coast. Similar mass die-offs of the crabs have occurred the past three years.

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Piles of crabs have been washing up on England beaches along the rocky Thanet Coast in recent days, a phenomenon that has puzzled scientists for the past few years.

"It's been a phenomenon for probably a third year in a row," Tony Child, Thanet Coast project manager, told LiveScience. He estimated about 25,000 of the dead velvet swimming crabs (Necora puber) were in piles this year, where birds are now ferociously feeding on their carcasses. [Image of beaches littered with dead crabs]

Last year, about 40,000 of the crabs washed ashore on the Thanet Coast, which is a long coastline of chalk reefs in Kent, England. This year, more starfish also washed ashore.

The velvet swimming crab has bright red eyes, with a coat of fine hair on its shell giving it a velvety texture. The crabs come closer to shore at this time of year, Child said, where they feed on the seaweed.

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