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Are you ready for your close-up Mr. Grunion?

DANA POINT, -(CA)- A small silvery fish was a big star to more than 300 adults and children who descended onDoheny State Beach late Tuesday night to see hundreds of grunions swarm the sand during the 20th annual Grunion Night.

Doheny State Beach interpreter Vicki Wiker and state park ranger Jim Serpa hosted the event, displaying a large collection of ocean and beach artifacts, including whale bones, seal skulls, otter pelts and small jars of sea water containing grunion eggs buried in sand. Serpa hoped the eggs would hatch by having visitors gently shake the jars to simulate an incoming tide.

All their eggs are in one jar.

Many people consider the famed “grunion runs” to be a myth, much like “snipe hunts,” Serpa said. That’s likely because they’ve picked the wrong nights to try to watch the 6-inch-long fish ride high tides ashore to mate and lay eggs, he said.

Grunions generally spawn the four consecutive nights after a new or full moon, when tides are highest. A typical run can include hundreds or thousands of grunions and last two hours. Runs can be seen on beaches between San Francisco and Baja California, Mexico.

It will take more than one grunion to feed this crew.

A good indicator that the grunions are coming is when birds like the black-crowned night heronappear on the beach several hours before a run and grunion “scouts” come ashore to check the safety of the beach.

“Once the scouts return and give the OK, they’ll come in, and at that point, nothing can stop them,” Serpa said.

Female grunions immediately bury themselves in the sand tail first, up to their pectoral fins. As many as eight males will encircle themselves around a female, depositing “milt” that makes its way down her body to fertilize the reddish pink eggs she has laid four or five inches below the surface of the sand. The mating ritual can take 30 seconds to several minutes as the toothless fish wait for waves to take them back to sea. The eggs hatch in the sand about two weeks later and the baby grunions ride the waves out to the ocean.

Serpa said state and volunteer efforts to clear Doheny of debris washed onto the beach from San Juan Creek are crucial to the grunions’ survival, providing them a clear path to the business at hand. Several Boy Scouts who helped during a recent cleanup showed up Tuesday night to watch the grunions.

Grunions spawn from March through August. They may be caught using only your hands and only during March, June, July and August – April and May are “observation only” months. The California Department of Fish and Game requires grunion hunters 16 or older to have a fishing license.

 

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