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Millions of red tuna crabs invade California beaches

From the depths of the sea, a tidal wave of red crabs has blanketed a California beach.
Red crabs invade California beaches 02:04

LOS ANGELES -- It's a red tide along the Southern California coast as millions of red tuna crabs can be seen coming ashore. Scientists say it's an unusual sight that could be a sign of big changes to come in the weather.

The tiny tuna crabs are so thick in places that Johnny Fotsch had to clear a path with his paddle.

"It looked like a red carpet -- a good foot-to-16 inches thick," he said. "It kinda took me back a little because I never seen anything like this before.

The crawfish-like one-to-three inch crabs have been washing ashore by the thousands for three days. Anita Rovsek's neighborhood beach on Balboa Island is covered.

The crabs were thick on the shores of Balboa Island. CBS News

"When we first saw them, we didn't know what they were," she said. "And everybody was down there trying to save them -- throwing them back in."

Their normal habitat is near Baja California. But scientists believe warm water is drawing the crabs further north. Unusual and so far unexplained warm patches in the pacific now stretch from southern California all the way to the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea.

'We don't normally see these animals because they live on the bottom of the continental shelf," said marine biologist Mike Schaadt.

It's not just the crabs that are heading north but also large schools of bluefin tuna.

"It could very well be that these tuna have followed the red crabs up. Because that is a food source that's available to them. And these are fast-moving predatory fish and they are going to go where the food is," Schaadt said.

Thousands of red tuna crabs invade beaches in Orange County, California. CBS Los Angeles

The last time tuna crabs appeared like this was 1997 ... right before a massive El Niño, a warming of pacific waters that causes changes in the atmosphere.

The El Niño caused months of flooding and mudslides in California. Though a wet winter would be welcome here in drought ravaged California, scientists say this could be a red omen that an El Niño winter is ahead.

Of course a wet winter would be welcome here in drought-ravaged California. But for now, these crabs are quite an eyesore. And it's gonna take a lot to clean this all up. And in case you're wondering, yes, the smell is terrible.

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