Grunion runs in San Diego, CA
This unique and fun experience is one few of us will ever get to witness, so if you are ever invited to a "gunion run" it's definitely something you will remember because it is quite a remarkable sight to watch! These little masters of reproduction come of the sea and lay their eggs on the shore about twice a month, typically between the months of April and June, and the eggs hatch about 10 days later.
Grunion runs have become a wacky tradition in San Diego, as well as other parts of California, and it is extremely fun! In fact, the areas of southern California and Baja California are the only locations you will find grunion. These little 5-6 inch silver fish like to choose flat parts of the beach where there is little light, or activity. Mission Beach is a chosen spot for grunion runs! After a high tide, or the new or full moon, on a sandy beach, it has been known to see thousands of these little guys literally dancing on the sand in their strange mating ritual.
Throughout incubation, the eggs will remain buried in the sand for about two weeks. High waves will eventually wash the eggs out to sea, where the larvae will hatch. The grunion's typical life span is about 2 to 4 years. The grunion are extremely vulnerable during their spawning season, so they are protected by a closed season. During April and May, it is prohibited to take any grunion. No gear is permitted during the regular months to take grunion-you may only use a flashlight, your hands,and of course, a fishing license. Some locals say that grunion are fair eating (prepared by being rolled in flour and corn meal, then fried), but many others encourage a "catch and release" of the grunion. There is simply nothing more "uniquely southern California" than the grunion runs. No other fish but the grunion actually come out of the water to lay their eggs on shore, and if it weren't for this bizarre fact, many of us would have never heard of the grunion.
It is even possible to view the eggs hatching right before your very eyes! Shortly after a grunion run, simply collect a small cluster of eggs and keep them in a loosely covered container of damp sand in a cool spot for about 10-15 days. Then, add one teaspoon of sand and eggs to one cup of sea water and shake gently; the eggs will hatch before your eyes in a few minutes!
The food habits of these little guys are not well known. They have no teeth, so it is believed that the grunion eat very small organisms. Despite local concentrations, the grunion are not abundant. Their population has been hurt by beach erosion, harbor construction, and pollution, which is a shame. During the 1920s, the grunion population showed definite signs of depletion. In 1927, a regulation was passed which established the closed season for three months. Thankfully, this regulation has kept the grunion thriving.
During your trip to southern Claifornia, keep an open mind if you are asked to go on a grunion run. You don't have to engage in actually catching the fish. Merely sitting back and watching these fascinating little fish dance in their uniquely public spawning display will be an experience you'll never forget!