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Saving Sebastian — A Story With a Happy Ending

Tired of hearing tear-inducing awful news? Check out Sebastian the crab's story — with a happy ending.

Michelle Nolan completed her divemaster course in the town of Xcalak on the Caribbean coast of Mexico and packed everything up on a Thursday before returning home the next day to Mexico City, 921 miles (1,483 km) away. On Monday, she unpacked her gear. When she unsnapped her BCD and removed the wetsuit tucked inside, a beautiful purple crab fell out. With so many days spent stuck inside her wetsuit, plus a plane ride, a long car ride and huge temperature fluctuations — not to mention absolute stillness from the crab and a missing leg — Michelle assumed the crab was dead. Saddened, she bent down to pick up the poor little guy. To her shock, the crab scrambled away.

The crab backed into a corner just before being captured

After finally capturing him with her roommates’ help, she gently placed him in a large Tupperware container while she decided next steps. First, she researched how to fashion a suitable environment for him because she quickly learned that crabs climb when he escaped almost immediately from the Tupperware. Her cats also discovered that they should never mess with a crab — those claws can hurt.

Michelle contacted a veterinarian, all her instructors, and every professional diver she knew while also posting in the Facebook group, Girls that Scuba. Some stated that killing the crab was the humane answer because it couldn’t be released in the nearest ocean. It could be an invasive species or could introduce parasites that would hurt the ecosystem. The crab also might suffer harm in an environment it wasn’t suited for. But Michelle and everyone in her house were divers with great respect for marine life. They avoided eating most marine animals and abhorred the idea of killing the crab.

A number of women in the Facebook group agreed, offering advice and deciding the crab should be named Sebastian. Based on a discussion with the veterinarian, Michelle scrubbed out an old litter box, layering dirt along the bottom in lieu of sand since the closest beach was 249 miles (400 km) away.

Getting Sebastian settled

However, the main concern was the cold. Sebastian’s normal Caribbean environment averaged an air temperature that week of 86 F (30 C), whereas Mexico City was dropping below 50 F (10 C) just then. Worried, Michelle found the warmest room in the house and built an enclosure around the litter box so he couldn’t escape — or attack the cats again. Based on research and advice, she laid down a plate of water in the litter box, and tore up spinach, lettuce, and cooked chicken for Sebastian to eat. Her brother tossed in some dry cat food as well. (Sebastian avoided the cat food pellets but gobbled down everything else.)

The next day, in the bright afternoon, Michelle adventured with him outside. He seemed to like walking through the grass and the cats watched him avidly with tails twitching while keeping their distance. After a few days, Sebastian regained his strength and became more active. Luckily, a coworker of Michelle’s mom offered an old fish tank with high walls for his home, along with sand from someone else. A borrowed heater completed Sebastian’s new home while Michelle continued her research.

Sebastian walking through the grass in Mexico City.
Sebastian in his temporary litter box home munching on his first meal in four days.

Homeward bound

Sebastian’s happily ever after in his native environment in the Mexican Caribbean.

Michelle thought it a bad idea to keep Sebastian, but found an aquarium that would accept him. They indicated his beautiful coloring also denoted his variety, a purple shore crab. After placing him in quarantine at the aquarium and checking him out carefully, they determined him in good health and decided he’d earned his passage to freedom. A return plane ride was out of the question so they arranged an extraordinarily long car ride for this small purple warrior with one missing leg. Thanks to some very dedicated individuals, Sebastian got his happily ever after and was released free in his native environment on the shores of the warm Mexican Caribbean.

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