Jason Austell was one of the first to spot the unusual shellfish, which began washing ashore on Monday. He told CBS News KFMB-TV Reporter Steve Price that he had "never seen anything like those."
A boy holds a tuna crab.
"We were arguing yesterday. People said, 'They're baby lobsters.' No, they are not baby lobstersÂ…They sure were the talk of the dock, that's for sure," Austell said.
The shellfish, called tuna crabs, have blanketed beaches from the border to L.A. Some made Mission Beach more colorful with their red shells. Most have dried up and died, catching curious looks from beachgoers and concerned surfers.
"My first thought was that some chemical in the water made them die and wash up here. I wasn't sure if I wanted to go out or not," said beachgoer Eric Whetstine.
Washed-up crabs on Mission Beach.
But chemicals had nothing to do with the crustaceans' coming-out party. Experts said the tuna crab's strange arrival happens every 6 to 10 years, when warm, southern currents push the crustaceans north.
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While they are edible, it takes work to get very little food. For now, they mostly remain uneaten.