Funny little fish… Hard to find and even harder to catch, but it’s a fun way to spend an evening. Cold? Wet? Sure, but it’s always a blast! If you have never heard about grunion, here’s a short primer:
You know that saying: It’s like a fish out of water?
That’s the perfect description for the grunion runs – a phenomenon that happens only here, during select months, on certain days, at specific times.
“The whole idea of a fish out of water is paradoxical, it’s fascinating,” said professor of biology at Pepperdine University Karen Martin, the foremost expert on the creatures.
And what these small fish do when they get out of the water and onto the sand; well, let’s just say it’s intimate.
The grunions pick a wave to surf onto the sand, and females lay their eggs in a hole. Then the males are washed up, and do their thing on the eggs – and that’s how baby grunions are made!
The grunions are found only along the coast in Southern California and northern Baja. They come up on shore to lay eggs only during spring and summer months. The eggs stay in the ground for about two weeks before hatching.
Other than what they do during their mating, not much is known about the grunion. It’s still unknown just where they go the rest of the time out at sea.
They are difficult to study because they scare easily by flashlights, making accurate assessments of their routines possibly tainted.
Recently, a coastal monitoring company found a way to use an infrared camera that can document grunions – and their predators – without disturbing their natural routines.
“You don’t realize how cool it is until you’re out there,” said Tim Chandler, of CoastalCOMS in Dana Point
According to Julianne Steers, a biologist at the Ocean Institute who also helps with the Pepperdine project, the three best places in Orange County to see the runs are: Doheny State Beach, Salt Creek, and Main and Crescent beaches in Laguna.
The best time to see grunions are 3-4 nights after the new and full moon. They run through August, but the best months are now through June. You can’t catch grunion during April and May. During other months, they can be picked up with only bare hands, and a fishing license is required for anyone 16 and older.
Even with the ground-breaking technology, volunteers are needed to do hands-on documentation of the environment during the runs. Pepperdine biologists host a “Grunion Greeter” program, the next local meeting at Muth Interpretive Center at the Newport Back Bay on April 6.
For more info, go to grunion.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
When to see them:
The next run happens Monday at 9:40 p.m. to 11:40 p.m. Tuesday they are expected to show up between 10:15 p.m. and 12:15, and Wednesday from 10:50 p.m. to midnight. They are never guaranteed to show – and sometimes show up late.
Tip: Try not to flash your lights on the first few that show up, these are “scouts” that report back to the group that all is safe on the sand.
There are also a few grunion-cams on YouTube. Very Cool!