Ecology Kyle Griffiths

Grunion Weekend: Fiasco?

by Kyle Griffiths


I went to Southern California last weekend with some of my classmates to see the grunion run.

Grunion are small fish that swim onto the beach in spring and summer during high tides to lay their eggs in the sand, which then hatch on a subsequent high tide. The tide at the time we were going was during a “super moon,” one of the biggest full moons of the year, so we expected it to be an amazing event.

I had never seen a grunion run before, although I had seen it in a movie or on a TV show at some point. In fact, I saw lots of the region that I’d never seen before because I had only been to L.A. as a tourist and it made me wonder about what the area would have been like before the modern era changed the region so much.

On Monday we spent the day at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, and then had a little dinner and went to Cabrillo Beach. We paid a small entry fee and were welcomed into the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, which was low-tech but charming and very informative, and allowed to look around until the official start of the event at 10:30. One of my favorite things at the aquarium was when the staff gave the visitors little vials of sand and grunion eggs, then added water and had us swirl them around until the fry emerged from the eggs.

We went to the beach before most of the other guests because there was a film going on in the auditorium we were too late to get tickets. There were a few other people there, and some of them were wading into the water with buckets. One of them scooped up an adult grunion and brought it to shore. We waited and finally the beach was packed with adults and children splashing in the water. We sat down next to some friendly locals who told us they had been at the film and been warned not to make loud noises or go in the water, and this took us aback because it was exactly what hundreds of the other guests were doing.

Finally we took a look ourselves, and we could see the juvenile fish in the glow of our cell phones and feel the adults skimming over our feet, but they never emerged onto the beach itself. At midnight the park officials closed the beach and informed us we would all be getting tickets unless our cars were gone from the lot very soon.

I can’t say whether the actions of the other patrons frightened them or if another set of cues made them shy away, but it made me reflect on the instant gratification associated with so many of our other entertainments. I have been appreciating how animals belong to a world where the things that mean so much to us, e.g., social success, cultural strife, customs and rules, are immaterial; that nonhumans seem to be in a state of permanent rebellion against our strictures.

Despite the fact that we use fish for food, entertainment and even grind them up for fertilizer, there aren’t that many aspects of our popular culture that revolve around fish and their life cycles, and I was actually a little pleased with the grunion for disappointing us. I do hope to see them one day, though.


Photo by Eric Wittman from Wichita, Kansas, USA (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0
(], via Wikimedia Commons.