Heal the Bay Blog

Category: California Grunion

The waves curl and crash ashore before slowly bubbling back to sea, a potion of water, foam and sand. The light of the full moon grazes the sandy beach at its feet while a bright Pacific breeze wanders through the night. There’s an air of romance. Thousands of wild fish certainly got the memo as they flop and dance around on the beach, performing one of nature’s most exceptional reproduction rituals.

If you’ve never witnessed a grunion run, you’ve been missing out on a classic Southern California beach tradition! Tonight and over the next few weeks you will have the rare opportunity to spot grunion coming to spawn.

Heal the Bay’s Marine Scientist Dana Murray answers some common questions about these special fish:

What are grunion?
Grunion are a sleek, silver fish that are most well known for their unique spawning behavior. These charismatic 6” fish surf the waves to shore, flop onto land to lay and fertilize eggs in the moonlight on our local beaches. Grunion are found in California (including Baja) and nowhere else in the world!

Why do they come to shore?
Grunion come to shore to lay their eggs at high tide. Spawning on sandy beaches, their eggs remain buried in the sand where they incubate for about two weeks until the next high tide comes and they hatch and return the ocean. The premier grunion expert in the world, Dr. Karen Martin, has written a book, “Beach-Spawning Fishes: Reproduction in an Endangered Ecosystem,” where you can read all about these fascinating fish.

When is the best time to try and see them?
At nighttime high tides during the spring and summer. Grunion may run as early as March on into September but peak season is from the start of April through June. Runs typically occur for a few nights after the highest tides during full and new moons. Your best chance to spot them is to plan ahead and stay out on the beach for an hour or so on either end of high tide.

Consult this grunion run 2017 schedule for the best times to observe these “silver surfers.”

What So Cal spots are best to try and spot them?
All you need is sand and a very high tide at night during grunion season! In the greater Los Angeles area, good grunion run locations include Surfrider in Malibu, Cabrillo Beach in Santa Pedro, Santa Monica State Beach, Hermosa Beach and Venice Beach.

What can I expect to see?
Although grunion sightings are never guaranteed, with a keen eye you can increase your chances. Look for predators such as black-crowned night herons or raccoons waiting for the surfing silversides along the shore. Some grunion runs are just a few scouts flopping onto the beach, whereas other runs involve thousands of fish, covering the wet sand entirely!

What should I do to prepare?
Bring warm clothes, your patience and a friend to walk the shoreline with. Leave your dog at home, and come knowing that as with any wildlife it’s a chance and not a guarantee that you’ll see them.

Are there things I shouldn’t do?
Do not to touch or interfere with spawning – especially during closed fishing season (April and May). Also, don’t shine lights on the water or grunion as it can interfere with their spawning, as can loud talking and noisy crowds.

Are grunions doing well? Are they in danger in any way?
The grunion population is believed to have decreased, so it’s important to protect them during spawning for the future population. Leaving domestic predators like dogs at home is advised, as canines may devour the eggs or disturb the fish. Also, not disturbing the buried grunion eggs along the high tide line after a spawning event helps ensure that grunion remain around into the future.

Dr. Karen Martin from Pepperdine University regularly works with and trains beach groomers to avoid the high tide line in grunion season, so as not to disturb eggs. Beach grooming operators now follow a specific protocol during grunion season to avoid disturbing sand where grunion eggs incubate.

How can I help grunion?
Observers of grunion runs are urged to report the time and location of the run for scientific purposes for Grunion Greeters.

Try not to disturb spawning grunion, and encourage others to do the same. During open season, follow the Fish and Game Regulations (which include not using any form of gear, nets or traps – only bare hands) and encourage observation or “catch and release.”  If you observe poaching or any violations of grunion fishing regulations, such as use of gear or nets, please advise the California Department of Fish and Game or call 1-888-DFG-CALTIP.

Staff scientist Dana Murray reports on our ongoing efforts to inform the public about the value and beauty of our local Marine Protected Areas.

Call them a sign of the times. Heal the Bay staff travelled along our local shorelines last week to help install informational displays about our fledgling Marine Protected Areas in Southern California.

Over three years in the making, the public signage informs beachgoers about the creation and importance of formally designated marine safe havens along the coastline — from San Diego to Santa Barbara, including our local MPAs in Malibu and Rancho Palos Verdes.

These beautiful and informative interpretive signs include maps, underwater images and bilingual descriptions of these underwater parks. California lays claim to the only statewide network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), where ocean wildlife can thrive with less disturbance from humans. Southern California’s MPAs have been in effect since 2012, following years of hard work by Heal the Bay and other coalition partners to implement them through the Marine Life Protection Act.

Illustrating the collaborative nature of MPA implementation, the sign project included a wide array of stakeholders and partners. Since 2012, Heal the Bay’s been working together with state agencies such as the Ocean Protection Council, Department of Fish and Wildlife, State Parks, and the Coastal Commission; Los Angeles MPA Collaborative members such as USC Sea Grant and Los Angeles Waterkeeper; cities such as Malibu and Rancho Palos Verdes; landowners such as Paradise Cove and L.A. County Beaches and Harbors; and other partner organizations such as the California Marine Sanctuary Foundation and Natural Resources Defense Council.

These organizations worked together to identify strategic sign locations, designed the content of the signs and provided Spanish translation, and procured landowner permission and coastal development permits to install the displays. All this work culminated in planting these signs in the sand late last week.

The first interpretive signs were installed Thursday at one of the world’s most popular coastal destinations — Malibu’s Zuma and Westward Beach, which is part of Point Dume State Marine Reserve and Point Dume State Marine Conservation Area. These beaches attract millions of visitors each year. The MPAs here encompass Point Dume’s rocky headland peninsula and deep sea canyon offshore, El Matador State Beach’s iconic rock arches, and a wide array of marine wildlife. Migrating gray whales often stop off and feed along Point Dume, and the reserve’s kelp forests, submarine canyon, and tide pools teem with octopus, anemones, and crabs. Historically, Point Dume’s kelp forest has been one of the largest in Southern California, providing food and shelter for a variety of sea life, including sea lions, lobster, grunion, and spawning squid.

Two years ago, we installed the first MPA regulatory signs in Los Angeles County along access points in Malibu and Palos Verdes, which simply reflect the new fishing regulations that accompany these MPAs. The newly designed educational signs installed this week will serve as a helpful public education tool, highlighting the importance of underwater parks and showing scenic underwater photos of the protected habitats and wildlife. Public education about our MPAs is imperative to help foster stewardship and advance MPA compliance.

Heal the Bay’s MPA Watch program surveys show that most people are respecting the new MPAs. However, a few hotspots exist where people are still fishing in reserves. Educational signs at key access points will help inform the public about where they can and cannot fish, while providing the important context as to why MPAs are beneficial to our coastal environment.

Earlier this year, Heal the Bay worked with partners to successfully pass new legislation that will strengthen enforcement of our state’s MPAs.

Beginning Jan. 1, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’ AB 298 will allow Department of Fish and Wildlife officers and other law enforcement agencies to combat poaching and illegal fishing in the MPAs off California’s coastline by issuing violators with a ticket – akin to a traffic violation – to enforce restrictions.

MPA violations are currently misdemeanor crimes and often prosecuted without priority. AB 298 gives officers the discretion to cite people that are illegally fishing in MPAs with an infraction or a misdemeanor, ensuring that lawbreakers are held accountable without placing a burden on the courts. AB 298 passed both the Assembly and the Senate on unanimous votes, and enjoyed widespread support from law enforcement, user groups and environmental organizations, including WILDCOAST, Heal the Bay, Monterey Bay Aquarium, San Diego Council of Divers, CA Fish and Game Wardens Association, California MPA Collaborative Implementation Project, and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office.

To join the statewide celebration of our MPAs, search your local MPA shoreline for these new interpretive signs, snap a picture, and post your photo on social media with #mpaswork and #healthebay.

To help with monitoring our local MPAs, join our upcoming MPA Watch training this October.

         Staff scientist Dana Murray, center, helped install new signs in Malibu.

Marine Protected Area

A group of Los Angeles high schoolers stoked about their MPAs! 

In honor of the first Swimmable California Day, a few of us at Heal the Bay felt inspired to share our favorite beaches for swimming, surfing and kayaking because today we celebrate California’s healthy waters and the legislation we’ve enacted to protect them. Now go get in the ocean!

Bay Street, Tower 20

Bay Street is my go-to surf spot. It’s close to the Heal the Bay office, so I can get a quick morning surf session in before heading to work. Several Heal the Bay staffers call this break home, making it a great place to meet up and surf with friends. The waves aren’t the best in the bay, but I always have a blast when I’m out there in the water. It’s a good place to learn how to surf by riding the white wash, and the waves can get pretty gnarly and powerful so it teaches you how to navigate strong surf. It’s where I learned how to surf, and I’ll never forget the first time I made the drop on what was a HUGE wave for me – average for anyone else – and got totally stoked. Another thing I love about Bay Street is the historical significance it holds as the home break of Nick Gabaldon, a barrier breaker in the history of surfing. When I’m out in the water I imagine Nick putting his longboard in the water and starting his 12 mile journey north, paddling to ride the epic waves at Surfrider in Malibu (see below). You can find me out there practicing most mornings, working on my own journey, hoping someday to be good enough to surf alongside Sarah and other surfing greats at Surfrider! 🙂

 —  Ana Luisa Ahern, Interactive Campaigns Manager

Catalina Island

Slicing through the emerald green saltwater with my kayak paddle, I enjoy the expansive view of Catalina’s craggy island coastline. If I look closely, I might spot a grazing bison on the hills or a soaring bald eagle searching for fish. I beach my kayak along the narrow isthmus beach and head up towards the small SCUBA shop to check if my tanks are filled from this morning’s dives. I treasure my summer weeks at Catalina Island, diving right off our sailboat to be submerged within an underwater world filled with garibaldis, bat rays, and giant kelpfish. No sounds of cars, crowds, or sirens – just the ocean breathing, people laughing, and boats cutting through the water. Catalina Island’s isthmus is my favorite swimmable beach, and my little ocean paradise.

– Dana Roeber Murray, Marine and Coastal Scientist


Some people seem a little shocked when they ask my favorite place to surf, and hear my response, “Malibu.” Malibu, Surfrider, 1st Point are all names for the long peeling right break just north of the Malibu Pier (pictured right). And, despite its water quality problems, it is my favorite wave, which I feel a little shame admitting as a scientist at Heal the Bay. During dry weather, Surfrider can score A’s on our Beach Report Card®, but during rainy weather or when Malibu Lagoon breaches, it’s not surprising to see it score F’s. Even with the crowds, I can’t get enough of the glassy long ride, whether it’s knee surf or overhead.

It’s too bad the questionable water quality haunts the minds of most surfers at Malibu, which is why California Swimmable Day is important – it reminds us that all beaches should be safe for swimming, and that clean-up efforts at dirty beaches need to be implemented to meet this goal. Sometimes it’s hard to stay out of the surf after a rain, especially with a nice storm swell, but the risk versus reward has to be weighed.

Some of my favorite spots near Malibu include: the veggie Farm Sandwich at John’s Garden, the refreshing smoothies at The Vitamin Barn, nighttime grunion runs on the beach during the spring and summer, catching a quiet sunrise over the Bay, spotting surfing dolphins (a rare but rewarding moment).

 –– Sarah Sikich

Science and Policy Director, Coastal Resources

Santa Monica Pier

I love summer time in SoCal for so many reasons.  One of my favorite reasons is the longer days.  More sun means more of a chance to swim before or after work.  One of my favorite spots to swim is to the south of the Santa Monica Pier, right near Tower 18 (the second tower south of the Pier).  It’s close enough for all the Pier amenities, and the long beach allows the waves to just roll in.  On a Thursday night, I can watch the opening act for the Twilight Concert Series as I body surf or boogie board.  With a backdrop of the sun setting behind the Santa Monica Mountains, those summer moments are hard to beat.     

— Tara Treiber, Education Director

Torrey Pines State Beach

Torrey Pines State Beach is my favorite beach to visit when I am in San Diego.  Torrey Pines offers everything you need to have a great beach day-good waves year round, beautiful natural environment, plentiful parking, and Mexican food within walking distance!  I love to surf and Torrey Pines always has waves.  I have been surfing here since I was a kid and whenever I am in San Diego, I try to surf Torrey Pines at least once because it reminds me of my childhood and I always seem to feel better off when I leave.

 —  Peter Shellenbarger, Science and Policy Analyst, Water Quality


On Saturday, July 27, 2013 LA Waterkeeper will host two events to celebrate! Bring your family for a fun day in the water!

Enter the California Coastalkeeper Alliance photo contest by uploading your favorite ocean action photos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with #SwimmableCA. CCKA will announce a grand prize winner on August 1, as well as top swimmable pet and youngster entries, and wettest photo. 

What better way to celebrate Mother’s Day on May 12 than to adopt a shark egg at Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium? Moms can visit the Aquarium to check the progress of their swell shark or horn shark – both species grow in an egg casing for at least nine months – but the Aquarium staff will do all the work! It’s a day at the beach for Mom and an important way to connect with the marine environment, support an animal on exhibit and gain a greater understanding of the amazing ocean habitat of the Santa Monica Bay. An Aquadoption gift not only assists in the feeding and care of an animal, it also funds the maintenance of exhibits and the ongoing education and advocacy efforts core to Heal the Bay’s mission.

An Aquadoption includes a one-year family membership with free entry to the Aquarium, an adoption packet and a laminated animal ID card. Visit the Aquarium to get acquainted with prospective adoptees during public hours, Tuesday through Friday from 2-5 p.m. or weekends from 12:30 to 5 p.m. 

You can also treat your mom to a special sighting this Mother’s Day during a Grunion Run. Starting Thursday and through Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, you’ll have a rare opportunity to spot the sleek fish that comes onto land in the thousands to lay eggs, flopping in the moonlight on our local beaches. We have times and tips to spot the Grunion

Consider dedicating a donation in honor of your mother. A gift to Heal the Bay is the perfect way to show someone how important they are while at the same time making a significant difference in our Bay. If you like, Heal the Bay will send notification of your dedication gift along with your personal note to the person of your choosing.

Whether you purchase a yearlong adoption for Mom, for a friend or for a child or grandparent, or foster an animal yourself, it is the gift that keeps on giving on behalf of marine life welfare. Newborn shark pups and eight other species of marine animals are also available for fostering through Aquadoption

Tonight (August 8) and tomorrow you will have the rare opportunity to spot the grunion, a sleek fish that comes onto land in the thousands to lay eggs, flopping in the moonlight on our local beaches. As the grunion population is believed to have decreased, it’s important to protect them during spawning for the future population.

Here are some more tips from Heal the Bay Marine & Coastal Scientist Dana Roeber Murray for viewing this amazing sight:

  • Do not to touch or or interfere with spawning.
  • Be quiet and don’t shine a light
  • Leave your dog at home, or watch it closely, as canines may devour the eggs
  • Good runs can be spotted at Surfrider in Malibu, Cabrillo Beach in Santa Pedro, Santa Monica State Beach, Hermosa Beach and Venice Beach.

Consult this grunion schedule for the best times to observe these “silver surfers.”

Observers of grunion runs are urged to report the time and location of the run for scientific purposes.

Grunion run numbers down this year.

Planting one of the first MPA signs along Los Angeles’ coast felt like it’d been a long time coming.

California lays claim to the only statewide network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), or underwater parks, where ocean wildlife can thrive with less disturbance from humans. Yesterday our Coastal Resources Director Sarah Sikich and I, along with our colleagues at L.A. Waterkeeper, installed the first MPA signs in Los Angeles County along access points in Malibu’s marine reserve. 

Southern California’s marine protected areas have been in effect for a year — after years of hard work to implement them– and now they’ll finally be marked.

Point Dume State Marine Reserve is located on the Malibu Coast, and includes a rocky headland peninsula, one of the world’s most popular coastal destinations. Migrating gray whales often stop off and feed along Point Dume, and the reserve’s kelp forests, canyon, and tide pools teem with octopus, anemones, and sea stars. Historically, Point Dume’s kelp forest has been the largest in southern California, providing food and shelter for a variety of sea life, including sea lions, grunion, and spawning squid.

It took over a year to get these initial simple signs designed, approved, funded, and installed- but an even longer public process to identify, negotiate, and designate MPAs along the Southern California Coast. Big thanks to the collaborative efforts of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Los Angeles Waterkeeper for helping to make these signs become a reality!

Next up are installing MPA signs along the Palos Verdes coast and Catalina Island … and later on this year, beautiful and informative MPA interpretive signage which will include images, maps, and multi-lingual descriptions of our local MPAs. For Heal the Bay, this is just the first step in education signage, but an exciting one to help with marine protected area education.


Dana Roeber Murray, Heal the Bay’s Marine & Coastal Scientist

For ocean lovers who want to get more involved with underwater parks, join our MPA Watch training program on January 30 and February 2 to help monitor these vital environmental resources.