Every once in awhile, a Chesapeake Bay waterman finds an unusual catch in his crab pot—a pure-blue crab, or a male/female crab like one we reported on last year.
This time, it was a fully- white, possibly albino crab. Instead of bluish-brownish shell color, this crab’s shell was snow white. It’s a notable catch that is now on permanent exhibit at the Annapolis Maritime Museum. But what’s even more notable is the journey this unusual crab took to get to its new home, thanks in large part to well-known Bay photographer (and Chesapeake Bay Magazine contributor) Jay Fleming.
The waterman who caught the ghostly crab is Mike Spiegel, who crabs out of Mill Creek on the Magothy River. A family in Cape St. Claire, Md. bought live crabs from Spiegel for their traditional Halloween crab feast, and Spiegel slipped the albino crab in the bottom of their basket.
“He kind of told them there was a surprise at the bottom. And they get to the bottom and they see this full white albino crab, and they decide they don’t want to cook and eat it,” Fleming tells us. “So they were trying to figure out what to do.
That’s when Fleming enters the story. As fans of his photography, the family reached out to Jay with a hunch he’d know what to do with the crab.
“They contacted me via Facebook and asked if I knew of somewhere that would take the crab and immediately I thought of the Annapolis Maritime Museum (AMM),” Fleming tells us.
Fleming, who often exhibits his photos at the museum, serves on its Board of Directors. “I thought it would be a good way to draw visitors to the Maritime Museum.”
But Fleming is an aquatic life photographer first, and he couldn’t resist taking the rare crab out for a little photo shoot first. “I’d never seen a fully white crab,” he says, even in 22 years of photographing the Bay.
To shoot the crab in its natural habitat, he quite literally took it for a swim. He drove the crab over the Bay Bridge to Shipping Creek on Kent Island, running south to Bloody Point , where he says the water is clearest.
Fleming donned a wetsuit, snorkel and weight belt in the 60 degree water, diving down to place his camera on the Bay bottom in about 6-8 feet of water. He began to take pictures, but the crab wasn’t quite ready for its closeup.
“He tried to escape. He wasn’t incredibly cooperative,” Fleming quips. But the crab didn’t get far, as the colder water made him a bit slower.
“When he was getting to the point where he was getting too far away, I just grabbed him,” Fleming says (wearing gloves, of course).
“He did bite me a couple of times. Normally, I would be pretty forceful about pulling a crab off of my thumb, but this one I wanted to be sure I didn’t damage him, like rip his claw off. I kind of just sat there and took it and waited until he wanted to get off of me.”
Once Fleming had gotten the perfect shot of his ghostly-white crab, he brought it back over the Bay Bridge to the museum. AMM CEO and President Alice Estrada says it’s a most unusual gift.
“We have had an aquarium in our museum for over 15 years populated with Bay critters and never had an albino crab. A fully albino crab is very rare.”
The crab is on exhibit in the aquarium designed to mimic the environment of Back Creek, the Severn River tributary where the museum sits. People are already coming in just to see the new crab. Estrada says the museum waited a few days before announcing its arrival. “We wanted to give him an opportunity to acclimate,” she explains.
You have plenty of time to see the rare catch with your own eyes. According to AMM’s scientific collections permit, they are committed to care for the albino crab for its lifetime.
-Meg Walburn Viviano & Cheryl Costello