Update for Early May, 2007 Grunion Runs

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


The great thing about the grunion is that everyone can experience a run. No special equipment is needed, no boat, no gear, no bait, no vast knowledge, just a patient and willing attitude and a taste for nocturnal adventure. And in a pinch, two out of three of those will do. But be warned: the grunion hallmark is unpredictability. Any pronouncement about grunion behavior that you hear delivered with great certainty is probably not true, or not true some of the time, or true some of the time and not true most of the time.

ShoreMay4Grunion, photo by Kacey Hoang

Here are a few that I've heard over the years: Grunion only run after the full moon. Or, only after the new moon. (They do both.) Grunion run only on west-facing beaches. Or is it only on south facing beaches? (They run on beaches facing west, south, north and east.) Let's consider another one: grunion avoid lighted areas. Brian T. in LA noticed "during the peak bit of the run, many grunion were coming ashore right near the well lit area adjacent to (a restaurant) - counterintuitive considering that there were more people and more noise and light there than anywhere else on the beach. That was also where the sea lion and pelican were hovering, preying upon them (the night herons were all on the far side of the beach). The predators' choice of the lit area can be ascribed to them being traditionally diurnal predators (as far as I've read) but the grunion's collective behaviour between this run and the one in (another, darker spot that I visited last time) seems odd - why are they congregating in the well lit spots? Just odd questions that to you are likely sophomoric or anthropomorphic, but I couldn't explain them to my wife or my drummer."

Roiling Grunion, photo by Carl Manaster

Likewise, Dorothy S. on a different beach saw "The entire beach from the restaurant to the end of the sand had large quantities of fish. The largest masses seemed to be right in front of the restaurant under their artificial lights." However Pearl C. in North San Diego County noted that the "Heaviest part of the run was by the bluffs. In front of the restaurants there were no fish due to the bright lights they were shining on the water." On another beach nearby, Rena W. saw thousands of fish in a dark area, but farther on with "4 new bright flood lights facing the ocean," and no grunion where "3 new bright flood lights face the ocean."

However, up the road a bit, Lori M. reported "Wildest thing was that the largest clusters of grunion were often near the restaurant or house lights as opposed to the darkest stretches of beach. Also this was one of our best nights as the total 'grunion activity' seemed to be most of the beach." Alice N. reported "We were never out of sight of grunion. Groups of 30 to 100+ were consistent along the stretch of beach, and probably farther. Heaviest concentrations near the strongest lights on the beach."

Dazzle,  photo by Arnold Liu

We advise people to use flashlights sparingly and only when necessary. It appears that moving and flashing lights slow down or prevent the grunion from coming up in a given area. But with stable lights shining steadily on the water from houses or restaurants we may tentatively conclude that in a strong run, fish will spawn in the spotlight, even though that may put them at greater risk. In a lighter run, they will probably avoid the lights. This is one of the ways your data helps us, and Brian's drummer, understand the grunion better.

Now about the early May grunion runs: Heather K. in San Diego waxed poetic:

"Fun, fun, fun, I saw my first grunion run!"

She adds, "We had to tell a few groups of people about grunion and what was going on so that they would stop picking the grunion up and stop shouting b/c they were so excited." Thanks for the outreach!

Dennis L. saw a run that "varied from W-1 at 1030 to scattered areas with W-3 at midnight. Waves barely reached the cut bank, which was generally much lower than 2 weeks ago." Kacey H. in Los Angeles County was delayed behind an accident on the freeway. "I arrived 40 minutes late, and the run was near its peak. Walker 4 Scale run last almost an hour. I walked 1000+ yards down south still didn't see the end." Sue M. was less fortunate: "There were heavy, dark overcast clouds, except for no moon, it seemed the perfect night for the grunion, quiet with no lights, but they never came."

Sherri H. "saw a few scouts in largest wave of the wave sets throughout the evening." Chris L., also, saw "My first 2 hour grunion run. I kept waiting for things to pick-up into a REAL run, but it never happened. They just kept coming in small groups wave after wave after wave. On Tony B.'s beach, "There were just a few scouts when we arrived, building slowly to a W4 by about 11:30 - 11:40, then dropping off quite quickly a few minutes later to almost no activity."

Bust me outta here, photo by Vicki Blitzer/Matthew Spark

Lots of public programs took place May 4. Ranger Bill Burhans at Bolsa Chica RV Park reported a W-2, and just to inspire hope in fellow greeters, he adds "Last watch, April 19th, we saw no grunion at this same location."


Birds, including night herons, great blue herons, and sanderlings were seen on many beaches. Sea lions, owls, raccoons, and cats hunted for fish on shore. "We saw another fish chasing the grunion up to the beach. My son thought it looked like a sea bass," said Belinda L. Julie N. "saw a pod of dolphins hunting."

Poaching: May is CLOSED SEASON, no take allowed.

"Two intoxicated men with a large Bull Mastiff dog in the water grabbing grunion and feeding them to dog. We informed them of law and they became irate. A lifeguard vehicle had earlier stopped and talked to the men but did not ask them to stop." - Sandie H., OC. "Safety rangers close to the pier were totally uninformed about the grunion and the no catch policy" reported an LA greeter.

Baby sea lion on shore, photo by Kacey Hoang

Line of grunion eggs washed up by waves,
photo by Kacey Hoang

Please do not disturb or approach any marine mammals that beach themselves.  Also note the line of eggs under its flippers.

During a heavy run sometimes waves will dislodge eggs and since they are lighter than sand, they wash up to the surface.  Unfortunately none of these exposed eggs will survive.

Robin S. saw "TONS of people in & out of water. Note to fish - if you're seeking some alone time - don't spawn on Friday night." Margaret M. saw "bonfires burning with drinkers celebrating QUIETLY but drinking. After the 5 police cars came the drinkers left and it looked like the grunion also left - (and they couldn't even see the police)."


Beth Y., LA area - "we think might have a 3 - we're not positive because this is our first one, but we can't believe how many we've seen and how long it is." Melinda L.-"It is a W3 run, and it is just AWESOME!" Jessica F., Malibu called "to report a 4, the grunion are still coming in, and we're excited!" Nancy A, San Diego: "We're seeing a significant run, thousands of fish, as far as we can see. It's awesome. It's about 11:30 or so and we've been seeing them since 10:30. Thanks!"

Katie G., Orange County, saw "A solid W-4 run all the way from south end of the beach by the cliffs all the way to the north end of the beach by the club." And Vicki B. of LA says, "The grunion certainly enjoyed their Cinco de Mayo party!"

Grunion in Santa Barbara, photo by Joe McLain

This run marks the first appearance of grunion in Santa Barbara and Monterey. In mid-month we will hold the ninth and final Grunion Greeter Workshop in Oakland, on the eastern shores of San Francisco Bay. We will be seeking the wily northern grunion along with the more flamboyant southern compatriots for the remainder of the season.

Thanks for signing up and greeting our lovely grunion, thanks for sending in your reports, and thanks for taking your time to DO SOMETHING POSITIVE AND USEFUL for one of the unique natural resources of California. May the fish be with you!

See you on the beach!

Pair and a Spare, photo by Arnold Liu

Grunion Bubbly, photo by Dennis Lees


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