Update for Late April Grunion Runs

A Message from Karen Martin, Ph.D., Pepperdine Professor of Biology

APRIL IS CLOSED SEASON FOR CALIFORNIA GRUNION: No Take, Observe Only. We Greeters and our grunion faced some challenges during this time of peak spawning. Heavy surf in the middle of the month may have washed out some of the eggs from the previous run before they were ready. Then, heavy surf, rain, and thunderstorms brought debris and remodeling of the shoreline, and interfered with grunion spawning. And yet, you brave adventurous Grunion Greeters went out to find your fish.


Grunion Greeter Glenn, photo by C. Lindsay
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Greeter Group, photo by M. S. Gail
(click to enlarge)

Reactions from Observers

First-time Grunion Greeter Georgia McC. reports a "mind blowing experience. Glistening in all their mating splendor were droves of silvery squiggling fish, determined to get a job done. What magic! I kept peering down at them saying 'You're so pretty!'" Her partner, Grunion Greeter Emily J., "said they were "scouts" to check things out before giving the massive go ahead. She was right! They were like commandos before the Normandy invasion. They started coming up on the beach - and coming and coming as the tide got higher, yet more fishies came and kept coming ashore with each wave. Then POOF! They vanished.

Excellent April Run, photo by J. E. Steers
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Excellent April Run (2), photo by J. E. Steers
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Grunion Greeter Julianne S. saw "the largest run, in terms of length of the beach, I have ever seen in 4 years of monitoring this beach, but not a W5 due to visible sand between grunion. The "head grunion" checked in right on the money. It seems they received that infamous memo about the run times. A few predators were present on the beach, but fewer than usual and only one individual got a tasty morsel. Most predators left by the time the run got going. Excellent season thus far."

JB asked, "The weather says thunderstorms for tomorrow; do the grunion run during rain?" They usually don't, but Rich D. assures us "I am your man and will go if it is raining or not." (The sky cleared up for him.) "We checked the beach report card after the rains today and (our beach) received a D/F. We are going to wait to do the run next weekend when the weather and water toxicity level is better," e-mailed one Greeter. We appreciate your concerns, but the fish don't read the report cards before coming in to spawn. Rose Marie G. "didn't expect much activity due to an earlier rainfall, but the grunion did not disappoint and showed up in large numbers over a sustained period of time. A great night of greeting!"

Guitar fish looking for a pick-up band, but wound up playing solo.
Photo by Ashley Hlavac (click to enlarge)


Multiple guitarfish were preying on the grunion. Melissa S. reported "surf so intense that grunion were being washed up onto the boardwalk. Onlookers were helping them, though." At a different beach, Laura C. saw "Yet another fabulous run. We had to rescue quite a few (50-100 or so) stranded fish who came in on a heavy surge and got stuck over a slope in the beach. We figured it worked at least a little towards counterbalancing the poaching we've been seeing!"

It's always fine to rescue grunion from stranding if you see them high on the beach. Georgia McC.'s group "put into place a full blown "Leave No Grunion Behind" campaign, with other beach dwellers helping. But we had mass casualties -100 or more dead I'm certain. One massive wave had washed up so high - then never went that high again and they were left on the bluff. Also a lot were caught in the storm drain." The next morning on another beach, Gaynell S. reported "over a hundred casualties and sparrows and other birds were scavenging the grunion and some roe."

Eggs for breakfast!  Photo by M. S. Gail (click to enlarge)

Cut Banks

Many beaches have cut banks at this time. Jessica A. notes "that beach has changed quite a bit since last year. There is now kind of a cliff of sand at the high tide mark rather than the gentle slope all the way up the beach it used to be. We noticed that there were fish but they were mostly in the areas that had a gentle slope. As the tide receded and most of the waves didn't reach as high as the sand wall, we started to see the fish in bigger groups and then they just kept coming. All in all it was a good run and a fun night." 

Lisa C. saw "a little cliff that's been dug out by the waves, and all the eggs were deposited right underneath that little cliff." Paul T. on a different beach noted, "Rough surf tended to discourage grunion from coming ashore as many were seen in the water. Steep shoreline also increased the difficulty of bedding in by females." Elsewhere, a "sand bar was very steep so the grunion were struggling to stick on. No spawning and we also saw reflecting waves," reported Angela L. "The sand formed a wall about 1 to 3 feet high for most of this stretch of beach. The waves would hit this wall of sand before they could reach their natural extension," according to Kimberly Y. Keith G. says, "Compared to 2 weeks ago, ~3-4 feet of sand eroded away by recent storm surf activity." Because of a "very high tide, initially spilling over seawall," Sue S. was "not able to go on the beach for first 15 minutes." "Not much of the beach was accessible because of the high tide and heavy surf" for Pearl C.


Cut Bank, photo by D. Lees (click to enlarge)

The cut banks are mostly natural, but in a few cases there are other sources. Several "beaches have recently received considerable quantities of dredged sand discharged in the high upper intertidal zone and moved around by a skiploader. The waves were eroding this high platform and forming cut banks ranging from 1 - 3 feet high at the upper end of the swash zone. Grunion were spawning immediately below the cut bank and, as the tide flooded, the bank was collapsing and burying the eggs deeper. Some grunion were actually caught and partially or completely buried in the sand as the bank collapsed, causing some mortality" reports Dennis L. in San Diego County. In Orange County, Chris L. says "The winds had pushed a lot of sand up on the beach near the homes last week. The beach tractors were bringing it back toward the waterline during the day. The problem is that they pushed it at least 10-15 feet closer to the water than they should have. They covered eggs from early April and left a 4 foot drop off in many spots. The incoming waves would hit this wall of sand, and have no place to go. No beach for Grunion to lay eggs."

Hey Babe! Photo by D. Lees (click to enlarge)

Scrambled Eggs

Jerry L., visiting from Boston on business, "walked the beach, while an operator with a front end loader, was skimming along the highest edge reached by the breaking waves and pushing washed up flotsam, mostly kelp, into large piles. He had a large rake on a trailer behind him, which he'd clearly been using a lot. What happens to the grunion eggs when one of these behemoths drives over them or rakes them and their protective sand into heaps?" If beach grooming takes place above the high tide mark then the grunion eggs are not disturbed. We ask our colleagues that manage and maintain California beaches to groom only above the high tide mark, where no grunion eggs are found. The highest waves reach above that mark on the day of the highest tides; otherwise they don't.  

And a final note about POACHING: April and May are CLOSED SEASON, no take of any kind is allowed for the grunion. "About 10 people had HUGE clear plastic bags filled with fish. Ted informed them of the law and one man dumped the fish out, another young teen said 'so what'," Sue M. reports from Orange County. Department of Fish and Game wardens will be patrolling this beach on future runs. Ray W. in San Diego County says, "The run seemed to die off when 6 young adults came with flashlights and one got down on the shore and walked among the fish and picked one up." Grunion are facing enough adversity this spring without adding illegal fishing to their troubles. Please report any poaching to the 1-888-DFG-CALTIP Fish & Game hot line!

Madeline and Ben, photo by Tracey Guth (click to enlarge)

Bicoastal Grunion Greeters Madeline and Ben from Concord, MA have been hearing about the mysterious fish for years from their aunt Melissa, and saw them for the first time last week.

Thanks for your amazing and inspiring dedication to our surfing silversides. Please be sure to submit your observations promptly and sign up to monitor the next runs after the full moon, May 4 and 5.   May the fish be with you!

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