Wednesday, July 26, 2006

THE GRUNION RUN….on a Southern California beach, 1952



One of the most memorable nights that I can remember was at a beach just north of Ventura, California. My friend Gayle and I were there during our summer break from college. The year was 1952 and we were working as waitresses at The Pierpont Inn.

Our work schedules were quite full but we did manage some fun excursions and this one topped the list. It was close to midnight and a group of us had lit a blazing bonfire on the sand. There was a full moon and the waves were very active, crashing rhythmically on the beach. A feeling of tension was in the air. We had no idea if we would be lucky enough to see the grunion, or if it would be another night climaxed by disappointment.

Suddenly a great cry went up, and was heard to echo down the length of the beach: “the grunion are running”...and there they were. Thousands of small, silvery fish were riding a wave to the shore. As the wave receded back into the ocean, the grunion remained on land, the females drilling grooves into the sand as they twirled on their tails, depositing eggs. The male grunion would curve around her in order to fertilize the eggs and the spawning was accomplished before the next wave appeared to return them to the depths of the ocean. It was a sight to behold.

Suddenly all bedlam broke loose as old and young alike raced for the fish, trying to catch them by hand. They were considered a great delicacy and it was a challenge to harvest them because they were on land for such a short time. The smell of fried fish soon filled the air and I realized that those bonfires were used for more than just alleviating the chill.

Observing the grunion, however, was more to our style than trying to catch them. Gayle and I watched in fascination as the show played out in front of us.. As I understand it, the southern coast of California and the Baja Peninsula are among the very few places where the grunion run so we were fortunate indeed.

6 Comments:

Blogger saz said...

Ginnie - I haven't thought about this in years! There used to be a beach close to me that was famous for grunion runs but I never saw it. My dad went on grunion runs as well as diving for abalone up here on Northern California beaches. Montara beach sometimes would have tons of huge jelly fish wash up on the shore which was quite a sight. There were so many you had to walk very carefully if you were on the hard sand close to the water.

10:00 AM  
Anonymous Terri said...

I'd never heard of grunion till I read Betty Garrett's book (Naomi from Sitten In the Hills, her very good stage and screen friend) Betty mentioned this in her book and I believe her and her husband, Larry Parks, always did this on the beach with Lloyd Bridges and his wife back in the 50's.
What a fascinating show this must have been for you.
I'm wondering if the fish still do this there?

6:00 PM  
Blogger Ginnie said...

Terri: "the spawning season for grunions is from late February to September.Actual spawning runs are restricted to relatively few hours during this period. Grunion spawn only on 3 or 4 nights after the highest tide associated with each full or new moon and then only for a 1 to 3 hour period each night following high tide".
The California Dept. of Fish & Game actually posts grunion "Facts & Runs" every year.

6:52 PM  
Blogger Connie and Rob said...

I have heard of grunion in stories but they made it almost sound like a fairytale. You saw the real thing...Thanks for sharing.

Take care,
Connie

2:51 AM  
Anonymous Terri said...

Ginnie....thanks so much for the follow-up info. Very interesting. And all the more reason that that night was so special for you. You actually got to witness it!

7:03 AM  
Blogger Trish said...

Wow, that brought back memories, except my grunion run was at a Huntington Beach in 1980...it was a surreal night, and they came in around midnight...

5:19 AM  

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