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Guide To Watching The Grunion Run In Southern California

Grunion Cabrillo Aquarium two
(credit: Cabrillo Marine Aquarium)

The West Coast beaches are the only place in the world grunion find suitable for procreating. Since this fascinating natural event only takes place after high tide when beaches are closed to the public, we found a few locations that offer organized educational grunion runs perfect for the entire family. We also have a few tips and facts about grunion runs, including the do's and don'ts from Southern California biologist, Karen Martin.

Grunion Cabrillo Aquarium
(credit: Cabrillo Marine Aquarium)

What is a Grunion and Grunion Run?

A grunion is a little fish similar to smelt that each spring and summer, from March through August, leave the water to spawn on the beach. Wait…what…a fish out of water? That isn't allowed even in a game of Marco Polo. It is true – first, the female grunions wash themselves upon the shore after high tide. The females then half bury themselves into the sand and deposits eggs into a nest. Then male grunion join the females, giving them warm hugs while fertilizing the eggs.

These little white fish come in large schools, creating a spectacular event to witness with the entire family. The females can lay thousands of eggs during one spawn. The eggs deposit into the sand during the highest tides of the month and incubate during lower tides.

(credit: Bryan Liscinsky)

Where can Grunion Runs be found?

Grunions are geographically picky. They do not like just any beach. The females who land first will only choose south-facing beaches. The beaches also have to be sandy. Female grunion swim past rocky shores because they need to bury themselves into a sandy beach for mating. For a schedule, visit the website of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

SanDiegoBeachGrunionRun-june2013-BryanLiscinsky (500x333)
(credit: Bryan Liscinsky)

Grunion Run Do's and Don'ts

Karen Martin, professor of biology at Pepperdine University, is the leading authority on grunion in Southern California and offers a few suggestions for those seeking a Grunion Run.

1) Observe and conserve. Grunion runs are like fishing -- you need to be quiet, patient and respectful of the natural event taking place.
2) Enjoy the run as a natural phenomenon, like watching a sunset.
3) Parents should prepare their children to not run on the beach or they will chase the grunion away.
4) If over 16 years old, one must have a fishing license to catch grunion.
5) Children under age 16 can pick up the grunion and place them in buckets to take home if the families plan to eat the fish.
6) If you don't plan to eat the fish, then don't catch them. If you do catch them, throw them back into the water so they live.

To learn more, visit Pepperdine's Grunion Educational Website.

Best Grunion Run Events For Families

(credit: Cabrillo Marine Aquarium)

Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

3720 Stephen M. White Drive
San Pedro, CA 90731
(310) 548-7562
July 10, 8 p.m.

Leave the sunscreen at home and enjoy the beach with your family at moonlight. Learn about the interesting mating rituals and growth of this curious fish. The Aquarium opens at 8 p.m. and an auditorium program begins at 9 p.m., followed by guided observation at the beach. Warm clothing and a flashlight are recommended. Admission is $5 for adults, $1 for seniors, students and children, but friends of the aquarium are free.

Doheny Beach

25300 Dana Point Harbor Drive
Dana Point, CA 92629
(949) 496-6172
July 24, 8 p.m.

Guest speakers Tom and Marilyn Wenzel will teach you and your family about the fun reproductive behaviors of the silverside fish. Learn about the grunion right where they are expected to land that evening, around 11 p.m. The grunion do not wear watches but they do manage to stick to a strict schedule. Call for detailed meeting location.

Michelle Mears-Gerst is a writer in South Orange County who can also be found @Sunnynsocal.

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