Sex on the beach: Witness the grunion running in Southern CA

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Source:   —  April 10, 2016, at 2:46 AM

Not the Orange County of “The O. C.” or “Arrested Development,” and sure-as-heck not of “Real Housewives” fame. I lived deep inland, nowhere close the ocean, three freeways and a curtain of smog away, in fact.

Sex on the beach: Witness the grunion running in Southern CA

My misspent youth – a period I attempt to repress but should confront presently because it’s so tied to my fascination with the mythical (in my mind, anyway) fish called the – mostly took space in the suburban sprawl of one thousand nine hundred seventy Orange County.

Not the Orange County of “The O. C.” or “Arrested Development,” and sure-as-heck not of “Real Housewives” fame. I lived deep inland, nowhere close the ocean, three freeways and a curtain of smog away, in fact.

It was in this middling milieu that I, a hopelessly naive adolescent, first learned of grunion runs. I heard it snickered about in low tones by the chilly dudes, the ones who already could sprout a few hairs on their upper lip in the fresh hell that was Jr high. I recollect on the required-listening rock Sta KMET talking each spring, with knowing salaciousness, about “going on a grunion ruuunnn.” In my hormonally hegemonic thinking, I somehow came to believe that grunion and the “run” people witnessed (or was it participated in?) was invoked merely as a euphemistic phrase for having a “hot date,” related to “” that the fictional ’50s kids employed on TV’s “Happy Days.”

Eventually, I was set straight. There actually is a fish called the grunion, I was assured, and their runs are sights to behold.

Still, portion of me clings to the misguided trust that this whole is an elaborate ruse, not quite fake-moon-landing elaborate but a thoroughly fictive hoax perpetrated upon the terminally gullible.

Irrational, I know. For I've seen the scores of grunion videos just a click far on – “grunion porn,” some marine biologists snarkily call the genre – and I've read the colorful nature stories about how these six-inch squiggly silvery slivers of protoplasm flop on the beaches of Southern CA and northern Baja, Mexico, twice monthly, from March to August, for three days after a full- and new-moon to enact an elaborate mating ritual.

I've been newly enthralled by grunion in recent years – call it an unexpected byproduct of my midlife crisis – and vowed to return to the land of my youth to witness a grunion running firsthand, something denied me so long ago. This seemed not only doable, but required. For one thing, I've a car now, to obtain to the shore cities, and a wife to accompany me. Why shouldn’t it be my time for a grunion ruuunnn?

Two problems immediately popped up. One, my wife has a work and, giving me major eye-roll, couldn’t be bothered to drop everything for some fishy expedition. And, two, when I started researching grunion on the Internet, the information keep forth about real dates and locations of spottings is vague and sketchy, which did tiny to quell my now-resurgent trust that grunion is a marine version of the (I was fooled by that one, too, as a kid.)

The has an impressive grunion page, replete with a mug shot and Latin designation (Leuresthes tenuis) of the slimy small things, and it also gives more facts than you necessity about grunion behavior. That site, as well as pages from and the in San Pedro, confirm that grunion hit the beaches to spawn in a new- and full-moon cycle. Also confirmed: that they stage their hook-ups on particularly sandy beaches just after evening high tide, apparently taking Wilson Pickett’s advice to wait ’til the midnight hour.

Delve further, though, as in trying to discover exact spots to ogle grunion, and things obtain murky. Pepperdine’s grunion FAQ answers the query about the best spots to look thusly: “There is number best spot. … Only the fish know where they’ll indicate up on any given predicted spawning night.” The Fish and Wildlife website is obtuse, too, printing something of a disclaimer in boldfaced type, stating it “does not recommend any specific shore because of changing safety conditions and local curfews.”

That tiny voice in the back of my mind, the one flashing “hoax” in all-caps neon, returned. But I recalled that those erstwhile facial-hair childhood prodigies always talked about Huntington Shore as the space to go. But HB, as locals call it, is huge; there are five piers there and the main shore alone spans two miles. If I were to just indicate up there at the appointed hour, I feared I’d literally be in the dark.

Fortunately, the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium holds twice-monthly “Meet the Grunion” evening events from March to July. Visitors will hear a lecture from a grunion expert on why it’s one of the scarce fish species that reproduces on land, look a film showing the squirmy sex act on the sand and microscopic footage of when “” meets and new grunion life blossoms. They also can shake a glass container of fertilized eggs and observe the little-buggers population out, with the catchy tune, “Call Me Maybe” serving as soundtrack. Then, shortly after high tide between eleven p. m. and midnight, the grouping will head to the adjoining beach, where, for at minimum the past eighty years, the grunion have treated love a no-tell motel.

To quell my lingering grunion doubts, I called Cabrillo beforehand to double-check. Programs director Larry Fukuhara spoke tentatively. Yes, he said, the mid-March grunion event would still be taking place, but he was “not all that optimistic” the grunion would indicate up. He mentioned something about a recent huge storm that caused much shore erosion, the effects of El Nino, and the famously capricious nature of grunion. “But, sure, arrive on down,” he added. Tickets cost $5. What did I've to lose?

I figured a few other hardy souls would hold me company at the event, enable me blend in. (Because, you know, few things are more pathetic than the sight of a solo middle-age man lurking at a grunion run.) To my delight, though, more than one hundred people showed up. Mostly, it was families with youthful children, couples on dates, fishermen with plastic buckets, and biology students from Cal State Long Shore and LA Harbor College seeking extra credit.

All were dressed for the occasion, donning layers of fleece and beanies and gloves. It was fifty-five degrees (frigid, by L. A. standards) and gusty at eighth p. m. in San Pedro, the industrial and harbour town upon which the man-made Cabrillo shore juts into the harbor. As I mingled at the aquarium before the presentation, I sought out grunion veterans to obtain the lay of the land.

Wayne and Tracy Boyd of Long Beach, ahead of me in line: “Nope,” said Wayne, “First time for us.”

Shawn Suang and Anahi Garcia of Compton: “Don’t know much,” Suang said. “Just doing it for school credit.”

Torey Tschudian, with companion Bryan Karyijanian, both of Huntington Beach: “I have number clue. I heard it was dicey to look them. But my dad, he’s done it a lot of times. He’s an elderly pro. He’s not here tonight.”

Mike Lyon, of Annapolis, Md.: “We came latest year and enjoyed the activities love hatching baby grunion by shaking up a glass. But we didn’t go to the beach. We left before midnight. Got tired.”

Finally, I ran into Naomi Pearson of Carson, who was with her son Elijah, an L. A. Harbor College student. She confirmed that grunion really do exist. She saw them as a child.

“I was maybe six,” she said. “I haven’t been since then. What do I remember? It was exciting to go into the surf and watching all these fish, hundreds, move around. My older brother would capture them. He’d have a bucket and running all over the shore grabbing them with bare hands. My parents ate them. I never did, so I can’t tell you what they taste like.”

Buoyed by Pearson’s recollection, I moved to the wall-mounted flat-screen monitor, where footage of legions of grunion hitting the shore and burrowing into the sand played in a continuous loop. Others, love me, craned necks and gaped at the sight of silver flashes being deposited by the incoming tide in numbers so large as to cover nearly all the shore. The camera then zoomed to a close-up of a female grunion shimmying, tail first, into the sand until half her body was buried, at which point the male curls its body around the exposed female in a brief, but urgent, embrace, before slinking off into the surf. Then another wave would arrive in and carry the whole crew back to the water and deposit another battalion of spawners.

We'd later learn, during the formal presentation in the John M. Olguin Auditorium, that the female deposits up to 3.000 eggs (the 1960s-era film showed them as orange and each the size of a pin head) in that brief burrowing. About the male’s “milt” that runs down the female’s scales and fertilizes the eggs – well, let’s just declare it looks just love the duration sounds, and leave it at that. We'd later learn, too, that after a nine-day gestation period, the grunion embryo pops out of its translucent egg at the crashing of the waves and surfs out to the sea.

As the hr grew late and shore time beckoned, Matt Christopherson, a Cabrillo program assistant, tried to support order amid the murmuring in the auditorium by holding a Q and A. With many kids in the audience, the questions were refreshingly blunt.

One bold lad raised his hand and asked what everyone must've been thinking: “Will they indicate up?”

Christopherson: “Gosh, I wish I could give you that answer. This isn’t Disneyland. I can’t thrust a button and create them indicate up, right? This is a natural event. They’ll indicate or not show. I’ve been close out before and had number fish at all, with a large crowd love this. It’s happened. But then I’ve only had thirty people, and the shore has been loaded.”

Question from a girl in the front row: “Why do so many males approach the females?”

Even people in the back of the auditorium could look Christopherson’s blush.

“That’s a question for your dad,” he stammered. “Is your dad here tonight? I’m not getting caught up in that.”

A few minutes before the grunion’s 11:05 p. m. scheduled arrival time, Christopherson and other reflective-vested guides herded us to the beach. This being a new moon, the shore was nearly pitch black. But, because Cabrillo is in an industrial area, with oil refineries and shipping ports in the distance, some light reflected off the water. People carried flash lights and pointed the beams at the oncoming rush of water in anticipation, which sent Christopherson into a tizzy, admonishing “Lights out! Lights out, please! Hold it shadowy for the grunion! Don’t frighten them away!”

I won’t hold you in suspense much longer. Here is how the rest of the evening unfolded, in genuine time, as I eavesdropped on others waiting for grunion:

Boy, anticipatory: “Dad, you look anything? I look nothing.”

Dad, deflecting: “I look stars. Polaris should be over there. … At minimum we can see at the night sky.”

Boy, mildly whiny: “Dad, if there’s none coming, what’s the point of being here?”

Mom, placating: “Maybe we should arrive back in May, honey.”

Christopherson, stalking the shore, to the line of visitors on a sand berm: “The darker the better, please! Lights off!”

Couples huddle in the wind, cloaked in blankets, staring forlornly at the ebb and flow of the surf, love shipwreck survivors. The line has thinned a little.

Boy: “Mom, I found a sand dollar.”

Mom, with forced cheer: “Awesome.”

Still number grunion sightings. The crowd has halved. People are presently flouting Christopherson’s no-lights admonition.

Teen girl to friend: “How can they even live in this freezing weather?”

Friend: “They live in the water.”

Boy, face partially buried in his mom’s right hip: “They aren’t gonna come. I wanna go.”

They go.

I worry that the boy will, love me, grow up thinking grunion are mythical, an elaborate prank.

There’s a hub-bub twenty feet down the beach. Beams flash. By the time I create it to the action, a man is holding out an orange Residence Depot bucket. Interior are two grunion wiggling in water. People get smartphone images as if one of the Kardashians had alighted on the beach. Word is, these were the only two grunion to shore themselves. I determine to hang out in this proven-grunion area, anyway.

Two-thirds of grunion-spotters have bagged it. I, then, am one of only about twenty people who look a lone grunion wash up not ten feet in front of us. At first, a boy following to me mistakes it for kelp. It's a grunion, though. Yes, a single grunion flopping around, doing its portion of the biological tango all by its lonesome.

I perceive so lonely, dreary for the solo grunion and for myself.

I leave.

Dates for this season’s Cabrillo Marine Aquarium “Meet the Grunion” program in Cabrillo Shore in San Pedro are: April twenty-three, May eight, May twenty-three, June 6, June twenty-three, July twenty-one. Cost is $5 general, $1 for children. More information:

The state Dept of Fish and Wildlife has a web page () committed to information of licenses needed to capture grunion and lists dates of the full and new moons when they're scheduled to appear, but doesn't specify which Southern CA beaches they're liable to populate.

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