In several places except for Laguna Beach, the California Spiny Lobster (Panuliris interruptus) season has opened. Located along the Pacific Coast from San Luis Obispo to Baja California, California Spiny Lobsters are the only lobster found in California. Observed during the day in beds of surfgrass or gathered in caves and crevasses within rocky reefs, they can live in depths up to 250 feet. Like all anthropods, California Spiny Lobsters have a segmented body and an exoskeleton (hard outer shell) that requires molting as they grow. Colored reddish-brown with orange and black markings, they have spiny protrusions covering most of their body. On the undersides, there are 10 legs used for movement, hunting and reproduction. They lack the large front claws found on other species of lobster. Their two eyes are found on short, moveable stalks on top of the head along with their long antennae. Similar to bees, the eyes provide compound vision and allow lobsters to easily detect movement. With males larger than females, although they have been known to reach between 50 to 100 years in age and three feet in length, the average age is between 10 to 30 years and 12 to 16 inches.
Omnivores, California Spiny Lobsters are nocturnal predators and scavengers, emerging at night to feed on algae, fishes, worms, invertebrates such as sea urchins, clams and snails as well as detritus and dead animals. They are considered a keystone species that help maintain the diversity of the intertidal and subtidal habitat. Predators of the California Spiny Lobster include octopuses; bony fishes such as sheephead, cabezon and Giant Sea Bass; cartilaginous fish such as horn sharks, leopard sharks and bat rays; moray eels, sea lions and sea otters. Defenses include using their antennae to produce an acoustic signal that warns predators away. They will also use the antennae for fighting and defense. To escape an attack, they rapidly flex their tail to swim away backwards. If caught by a predator, as a final resort they will amputate appendages to escape. These limbs can later be regenerated.
The California Spiny Lobster makes annual migrations from shallower water to deeper water and back again. Triggered by changes in the water temperature as well as possibly the threat of winter storms, in early winter the lobsters move off shore, traveling at night in small groups. It is a remarkable sight to see several lobsters line up in formation and march away over the sand. In the spring, this is reversed and the lobsters move to shallower water where there is plentiful food and the warmer water shortens the time needed for egg development. Becoming sexually mature at 5 to 7 years of age, they mate once a year in early spring and summer. The male flips the female over and belly to belly deposits a packet of sperm onto the female’s underside. When the female is ready to produce eggs, she will fertilize up to 1 million eggs that she broods on the pleopods, soft paddle-like swimming appendages under her tail. After almost three months, the eggs hatch as larvae to drift in the currant molting a dozen times over the next eight months before they settle on the ocean floor as juveniles.
Since the Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve was implemented a few years ago, recreational and commercial capture of the California Spiny Lobster has been prohibited. Every year, the Marine Protection Department and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife issue very expensive citations to poachers who have caught lobsters in Laguna Beach. Check with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to determine areas were lobsters can be hunted legally.
The authors are local residents and ocean swimmers.