Update for Mid May, 2007 Grunion Runs

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

MAY IS CLOSED SEASON FOR CALIFORNIA GRUNION: No Take, Observe Only.

The Grunion Greeters experienced an exciting set of runs for mid-May. With over 100 reports from 50 different beaches, runs were strong on both the 18th and the 19th. This bodes well for our next series of runs. Many of you reported runs that extended far along the beaches, from one end to the other. Kristopher in San Diego saw "consistent W-3 for the entire length of the site, fish were visible the entire length of the beach, and in several spots they got up to W-4 levels." Vickie in Los Angeles reported "Grunion party heaven all along, there were grunion in thick and thin clumps as far as we could see along the coast. Most grunion we've ever seen at one time. Constant activity." Marcus in Malibu phoned in "A level 4, borderline 5, grunion galore!"

Who's Your Daddy? Multiple paternity in grunion, photo by Arnold Liu

We had the first reported runs in San Francisco Bay after an overflow workshop of adventurous Grunion Greeters. More beaches are on the list, thanks to Tamara and friends who talked their way through a police barricade to find grunion spawning all along a beach near Berkeley. We now have trained over 400 awesome, talented Grunion Greeters who are monitoring along the California habitat range.

Grunion were found on additional new beaches in southern California, showing up in small sandy places between cobbles and bluffs in Carlsbad and elsewhere.  Andrew reported, “Grunion present along entire 250 yards; lots of cobble patches.”  Depending on the coastal configuration, the grunion may be present in small groups around a beach or near places where the waves refract.  In San Diego, “There were several graduation parties along the beach so there were a lot of fires and people; grunion were heavy right along the jetty and then scattered small groups in other areas,” wrote Mekaela. 

Between Rocks and a Hard Place, photo by Carol Ann Lindsay

We also had our first report of jumbo (Humboldt) squid, from Chris in Newport Beach. He saw a dozen or so on Friday night, each about a meter long. On Saturday he investigated further and saw "Only a few squid compared to the dozen or so Cephalopods from Fri.night. The one that I examined more closely had three grunion stuck to its tentacles. Two were out of sight until I moved things around a bit to see that they were closer to the beak. The third was still kicking so I removed him and threw him back. The squid flashed red through its body as it was touched. Another squid from Fri. night had a few holes in its body probably from birds. There were tentacles in several places at the high tide line on the beach."

Predators

In addition to the jumbo squid, greeters reported smoothhound sharks, corbina, night herons, rats, owl, gulls, great blue herons, guitar fish, egret, raccoons, and some people in spite of the closed season. 

Black Crowned Night Heron awaits, photo by Steve Davis

HABs: Harmful Algal Blooms

Periodically along the coast there are large blooms of harmful algae that cause distress and even death to vertebrates such as seabirds and marine mammals.  These algae are eaten by shellfish and smaller food fish and the toxins are moved through the food chain to the top predators.  Grunion are planktivorous fish with no teeth.  They are typically caught only during the spawning runs and since they run with empty stomachs, it’s not certain what they eat. However, in the lab we (and others) feed them brine shrimp and other zooplankton.  So are they affected by HABs?  The answer is, they are vertebrates so probably they and other fish are affected, but the effects are less likely to be observed by humans. During HAB outbreaks we get numerous reports of stranded grunion, or grunion running into the sand head down, often dying in that position.  That’s a correlation, not a direct indication of causation, but it has happened repeatedly.  We have had a few grunion tested for domoic acid in the past and the results were negative, but the anchovies and herring that are tested as “whole fish” include guts full of algae, and grunion have empty guts at the time we catch them.  Again, if you observe unusual behavior, please pass that information along in your report. 

Grunion in San Francisco Bay, photo by Karen Martin

Grunion Greeter Fish Tales:

Mary Sue Gail started Grunion Greeting this year:

"Tonight was my second run and I was thrilled to have my sister by my side. Shrieking with pleasure, like an overwhelmed Beatles' fan, she was so giddy in her delight of the silvery, wiggling fish! At 10:50pm, we arrived to check for grunion and at first glance, I didn't detect anything. Then, there they were, suddenly, shimmering away! So, "eeeeeee", hit my ears and possibly the grunions too! "Eeeeeeee" again, and again and "oh, look at that one, it's so beautiful!"

We spoke with a fisherman who reported that he'd decided not to fish, but to watch, "because with that much food in the water," he said, "they won't be interested in my bait!" Early he had sighted an owl picking up a grunion and he said the rats were coming out of the jetty too. Later on, he was rescuing some who clearly were not going to be free of the kelp.

My sister and I then returned to the other side, where in addition to some youngsters indulging in Jagermeister and a bonfire, there were grunion too. They asked us what was happening and before I took a breath to speak, my sister. . .the newly educated grunion observer, gave a landslide of information. It was really great to see this new convert, who just converted these youngsters, as I was only a few weeks ago.

What a very interesting evening. How do the grunion do that, bringing people together?"

Grunion Galore, photo by Emily Barodte

Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm, thanks for your late nights and lost sleep, thanks for helping the California grunion survive on our coast. Please be sure to submit your web report and sign up for greeting the grunion in early June.

May the fish be with you!

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