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Save the Grunion!..The What?

Save the Grunion!..The What?

            Every year millions of people visit the beaches of California.  Environmental concerns motivate people to clean beaches and create programs for beach clean up days.  Off the beach and into the water other issues concerning the growing kelp depletion and the chain effect it has on its ecosystem is another hot topic.  But a more not hidden, but not popular issue is the events of the grunion season.  Every year for a span over the beginning of spring to the end of summer, these creatures wash ashore to spawn.  This leaves them vulnerable to dangers, including being beached, being trampled on, and most dangerously, being poached.  To protect grunions and a perhaps downfall of their ecosystem, state and federal laws should be created to ensure the safety of this species, and longer closed seasons should be implemented.

            First off, what exactly is a grunion?  A grunion is a marine fish found specifically to the southern Californian coast and the northern coast of Baja California.  They are sleek silvery fish that grow about three to six inches, if not more.  What is special about these creatures is that they immerse completely out of water to spawn.  The female burrow into the sand and lays their eggs.  They only come out at high tide and usually late at night, around 10pm-12:30am, and between the months of March through September.  At times there are thousands upon thousands of grunion dancing about the beach, and at few times there are only tens to hundreds.  During incubation, the eggs remain in the sand for about two weeks and hatch only at full and new moons.

            So what about the dangers?  Washing themselves ashore, grunions are susceptible to beaching themselves.  Often they get caught behind debris or kelp, stranding them on shore.  They end up not being able to spawn or die from being out of water too long.  Although they can not be monitored every minute of their run, steps can be taken to help decrease the number of stranded fish.  For example, during these grunion runs, Pepperdine University Marine Biologists have put together a program to monitor the behavior of the creatures.  Volunteers go out on certain nights, for two nights in a row, and monitor the behavior of the fish, and how many are found on certain nights at certain beaches.  During the programs, tens to hundreds of volunteers watch the beaches, and when any grunion seem to have been washed ashore, or caught behind debris or kelp, the volunteers simply toss the fish back into the ocean.  Hundreds of fish are saved from a simple effort.  As long as people continue the effort, a small step to conserve a species can be possible.

            Another problem is that during spawning when there are thousands upon thousands of grunion on the beach, it is easy to trample on a few.  But with precaution this can easily be avoided.  But the bigger problem is that after the eggs are laid, only a few inches from the surface of the sand, pressure from passer-byers or vehicles, can crush these eggs.  Lifeguard vehicles patrolling the beach could run over the areas where the grunions have spawned.  Imagine the pressure from a truck running over a patch of eggs; they are crushed like a banana ran over by the vehicle.  A simple five minute patrol over a mile or two stretch of beach can destroy thousands upon thousands of grunion larvae, slowly depleting the species.  Measures that may seem to work would be talking to local lifeguard officials and warning them about the grunion season and to be cautious of where they tread.  Grunions come on shore through high tide; you can tell high tides from the kelp lines.  The tide does not reach beyond these lines of kelp, which means beyond these lines there are no grunion eggs.  Advising lifeguard vehicles to only drive past these kelp lines would help protect the grunions while still being able to patrol the beach. 

            Beach grooming is another devastating example of eggs being destroyed.  Beach grooming involves combing the sand, with a large operating machine that look likes a tractor.  If you thought the pressure from the lifeguard vehicle was bad, imagine this machine that is easily two or three times heavier.  If the lifeguard truck did not get all the eggs, this heavy equipment will sure finish the job.  The same solution should be enforced for these machines as lifeguard vehicles.  Signs should be posted on the beach to keep runners or just visitors to the beach to be careful as well. 

Of course lifeguards and, more likely, city officials might have objections.  The city might complain that without beach combing the sand won’t look presentable enough for its summer visitors.  These are the months when the beach is more crowded, and city officials would not want to lose tourists or the profit that can be made by the myriad of visitors.  Many would be deterred from walking or jogging the shoreline, and frankly that would not go over too well.  People want their vacation time, and not have to worry about watching where they step.  This is a problem that is no doubt huge and unavoidable no matter what.  The best that can be done is to make the public aware, whether by announcement or by the use of signs right on those kelp lines, to warn the beach goers right before they cross it.

            Lastly, the biggest problem, and the hardest to maintain, is poaching.  Poachers find this season a valuable opportunity to gather up the vulnerable fish as they gather to spawn.  Knowledgeable about this season, poachers come ready with buckets and gather grunion fish by the handfuls.  There are measures already taken place by local grunion programs.  People such as the Pepperdine University grunion staff and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, warn local officials and lifeguard officials of the poaching problem.  Right now there are only fines to pay if caught poaching.  Through the last three years, the grunion population has inflated its way back up to where it once was and more.  Closed season of April and May have been created, during which these two months no poaching is allowed whatsoever even with licenses.  In order to get the grunion population to flourish even more, and to keep them out of danger, a longer closed season should be enforced, and heavier laws should be laid down.  Heavier fines, or perhaps small prison terms for those caught disobeying the law for their own greed.  Patrols should be created, whether through volunteering or through actual law officials, to look out for and report a poaching problem during the closed seasons.

            The depletion of a species, even one you may have never heard of, can have a huge impact on the environment which it lives in.  In one event, a large number of krill up by the Alaskan coast were wiped out, hurting its ecosystem.  Marine life started to fall for a short time, and marine animals were found in areas where they would not normally be, all because they were looking for food.  Similar to the krill by the Alaskan coast, grunion could equally damage the ecosystem around the southern California coast and the northern coast of the Baja of California. 

            Awareness of these problems as well as implementing the solutions to them, may take time, but steps do need to no doubt be taken.  With help from the government awareness could be more possible; and making suggestions into laws could really lay down the line to saving this species.  Volunteers are also a great way to help protect this species.  Researchers such as Dr. Karen Martin, and Melissa Studer, have started studies on grunion fish, and have created a grunion greeting volunteer program to monitor the behavior and spawning numbers of grunion.  Through a volunteer program, “Grunion Greeter,” volunteers have sheets which they fill out, and they report the area they were in, the time, and the number of grunions they saw.  Through this researchers have been able to more closely study and monitor this behavior of the grunion.  More people are becoming aware of the problem through this, as volunteers pass their knowledge on to the next person, and so on.  More motivation has been created, and with motivation like this, a push toward solutions such as government action and public awareness is very possible.  Although it may not seem at all interesting when you think about grunions, but when you actually see them in motion, it is a spectacular moment.  Fish dancing about the shoreline, gleaming in the moonlight, somehow captivates every seer.  When there are thousands on the beach, it is an unbelievable experience. Nights when you only see a few are disappointing nights compared to this, and boring to monitor.  If actions are not taken, more nights like that may become more and more frequent, and instead of counting from tens to thousands, we may end up counting from zero to tens of grunion fish.  And as time passes we may find ourselves counting less of other species, as every downfall of a species has a chain effect on its ecosystem.  Volunteering is free and easy, and voicing the problem is a challenge that can be overcome.  So do not wait for the total extinction of a species, take action today.  Protect the ocean which we love so much, and protect our grunion friends that are a part of it.







Works Cited List

Pepperdine University.  “What is a grunion?”  Grunion.org  May 2006.  Date accessed: 14 May

  1. < http://arachnid.pepperdine.edu/grunion/whatis.htm>.
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