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Horseshoe crab named Delaware’s official marine animal

July 2, 2002

By MOLLY MURRAY, Sussex Bureau reporter

Delaware has its state bug, the lady beetle; its official fish, the sea trout; and its own bird, the blue hen chicken.

photo of Abigail Bradley

Abigail Bradley

Now a new critter will join the state’s ark of official animals.

The horseshoe crab, known to generations of locals as the king crab, now really is king. Gov. Ruth Ann Minner last week signed legislation that made it Delaware’s official marine animal.

The designation reflects the horseshoe crab’s importance in Delaware, in scientific research and in the food chain.

“When I was a kid on the Delaware beaches, I used to think horseshoe
crabs were stinky, smelly things but now I know how beneficial they
can be,” Minner said.

The brains behind the law is Abigail Bradley, 17, of Lewes.

Bradley, a recent Cape Henlopen High School graduate who plans to study marine biology at the University of Delaware, wrote Minner an e-mail in March urging the governor to officially designate the horseshoe crab as the state’s marine animal.

Minner responded with a suggestion that Bradley contact her state representative about the matter. She told Bradley she looked forward to signing the bill.

“When I was a little girl, my mother and I used to walk the beach and return the stranded horseshoe crabs to the water,” Bradley said.

Bradley always wondered if she was making a difference or simply interfering with nature.

So, at one of the University of Delaware’s Coast Day events in Lewes, she asked a marine biologist his opinion.

The scientist told her it did matter, especially because horseshoe crab populations were declining.

Bradley started doing her own research projects, and last year, as a high school junior, won the Sussex County Science Fair first-place honors for a paper on horseshoe crab nest site selection.

She also won the President’s Environmental Youth Award in 2001 and a DuPont Science Challenge Award for her horseshoe crab research.

Once Bradley heard from Minner, she contacted Rep. John R. Schroeder, D-Lewes.

Bradley’s high school science teacher is Rob Schroeder, the representative’s brother.

But the representative said it was Bradley who was convincing with her half-page-long e-mail on the importance of the crabs

“It sounded right to me, too,” Schroeder said. “We had virtually no debate on the House floor.”

Schroeder said Delaware is the first state to have an official marine animal. “Not that I was trying to be first,” he said.