Grunion run

Grunion fans young and old come out to the beach to watch the fish.

Summertime in Long Beach is synonymous with surf and sand, and humans aren’t the only ones who have a good time at the beach.

Fish out of water, the grunion run — or, more accurately, wriggle — onto the coastline in the warmest months, only when the moon is full or new and the tide is high. They are there to spawn, creating a spectacle unique to Southern California and Baja California.

The slender, silvery little fish give this newspaper its moniker, and it’s been our tradition to annually remind readers to check out one of nature’s most unique mating rituals.

Here’s how it works: the female grunion are the first to get in the surf and reach the highest point possible on the beach; she pushes her tail into the sand and the male follows her, wrapping his body around hers so that he can fertilize her eggs with milt. The process takes about half a minute before the couple returns to the ocean with the next wave.

Each female lays between 1,600 and 3,000 eggs at a time that stay buried for about 10 days or until another high tide stimulates the eggs with fresh sea water, releasing the hatchings. An adult grunion is about five to six inches long and the fish belongs to the same family as jacksmelt and topsmelt, but people most often compare them to sardines (in both look and taste).

While fishing for the grunion is legal during certain times of the mating season, there are a number of rules to observe. Only people older than 16 years of age with a valid permit may try to grab the grunion in a wet scramble. Grunion must be caught using only hands — digging holes in the sand or using other tools is not permitted. This season, the grunion are off-limits for consumption for the rest of the summer.

Here in Long Beach, try asking local lifeguards for the best viewing areas. The Grunion’s seasoned team of grunion watchers also suggest bringing flashlights, lawn chairs, blankets and snacks — some nights, it can be a long wait before the beach starts glistening with flopping silver fish.

The next runs are expected to take place in the middle of Fourth of July festivities, between 9:30 p.m. and 1:50 a.m. July 2-5, with more specific time frames and future runs posted on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website: www.wildlife.ca.gov/fishing/ocean/grunion.

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