20 Aug 2014
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Will You See Grunions in Dana Point Tonight?

If you feel inclined to try and see the silvery fish under the moonlit sky, head to Doheny State Beach during the early morning hours Sunday for a possible glimpse.

If you are looking for something out of the ordinary to do, and you happen to be up at a weird hour, you might want to head to for the annual grunion run to possibly see the slithery, silvery, moonlit Southern California phenomenon.

Grunion are among the few fish to spawn completely out of water. They do it by the thousands, and they do it only in Southern California. According to the California Fish and Game Department, the grunion are likely to spawn Saturday night (Sunday morning) between 12:35 a.m. and 1:30 a.m. in Dana Point, near Doheny State Beach.

But before you get in the car, Doheny closes its gate access at 10 p.m., so you will need to park elsewhere. Once you find a parking spot, head toward the north end of the beach between lifeguard towers 12 and 13. 

"It's not set in stone the times, and you may or may not get a chance to see them spawn," says Colin, a park aide "They are an animal and it has to do with the tide, the light level, and noise level. We are next to a harbor, so, it's iffy."

If you miss out this weekend he says there are a few other times this month to try again:

  • July 20 at 10:30 p.m.
  • July 21 at 11:10 p.m.
  • July 22 11:50 p.m.
  • July 23 12: 45 a.m.

Colin says he has never gone on a  grunion run but between 20 to 30 people typically come out including Boy Scouts groups and other locals.

If you are lucky enough to see a grunion run, it’s a pretty remarkable process, said Melissa Studer, project director for  Grunion.org, a Pepperdine University group of scientists, environmentalists and community members who monitor the grunion and educate the community about them.

“They are pretty important culturally to us because this doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world, and it’s a very unique experience,” she said.

The grunion spawn during the highest tide of the month from as early as March and as late as August, but April through June tends to be their most active period. When they spawn, the female fish will wash ashore on the high tide, wriggle a few inches into the sand, tail first, leaving her head exposed. She will lay about 3,000 eggs a few inches deep in the sand, and then the male fish will wrap around the female fish to fertilize the eggs.

Roughly 10 to 14 days later, the eggs will hatch, allowing the next generation to swim off with the tide. The grunion spawn at age 1 and have a life span that ranges from two to four years.

There is a two-hour window after high tide to see the grunion run. To see them, be patient and look for the shorebirds—they always know where to find the grunion.

The grunion play a big role in the ocean’s food chain, and observers will sometimes catch glimpses of small sharks and other predators during a run.

The grunion do prefer a sandy beach with flat slopes and quiet conditions. They spawn on beaches from Baja up to Point Conception.

Grunion are the object of a unique recreational fishery. These fish are famous for their remarkable spawning behavior, which evokes an “I don’t believe it!” response from people seeing or hearing about it for the first time, according to the California Deparment of Fish and Game website.

Most grunion seen on Southern California beaches are between 5 and 6 inches long, with some are as long as 7 inches. An average 1-year old male is 4½ inches long while a female the same age is slightly larger at 5 inches. Grunion mature and spawn at the end of the first year. At the end of two years, males average 5½ inches and females are around 5¾ inches long. By the end of three years, an average male is nearly 6 inches and a female is a little over 6¼ inches in length. Few live for more than three years, the website says.

Despite local concentrations, grunion are not abundant. The most critical problem facing the grunion resource is the loss of spawning habitat caused by beach erosion, harbor construction, and pollution. By the 1920s, the fishery was showing definite signs of depletion. A regulation was passed in 1927 establishing a closed season of three months, from April through June. The fishery improved, and in 1947 the closure was shortened to April through May. This closure is still in effect to protect grunion during their peak spawning period, reports the California Department of Fish and Game.

Grunion Run Tips:

  • Legally, you can use only your hands to capture the grunion.
  • People over the age of 16 must have a license to catch grunion.
  • Grunion cannot be captured in April or May.
  • Be sure to wait until after the fish have spawned before capturing them.
  • Only catch what you will use.

Violations can be reported to the California Department of Fish and Game at 1-888-DFG-CALTIP (1-888-334-2258).

Grunion.org asks for the public’s help in  reporting grunion sightings for monitoring purposes

Local Editor Paige Austin contributed to this report.

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