Saturday, May 25, 2013

grunion greeting, 2013 #1

full moon cycle, 10:42-12:15, mostly clear skies

Happy dance, happy dance!  Finally!  Here's my long-awaited W-3!!! Woohooo!!!!!  I even called the grunion greeter 1-800 hotline and everything, because you know, I saved the number in my phone all these years.  Awesome.

Grunion runs are better known in SoCal south of Point Conception, although they have been reported as far north as San Francisco Bay.  Back in 2009, Andy and I signed up for this citizen science project, the first ever in Monterey to monitor the unusual grunion spawning runs.  We went out a total of 15 times in 2009, 6 times in 2010, 3 times in 2011, and zero times in 2012. Our biggest previous find was back on June 7, 2009 with a whopping 31 fish.  Over the course of 18 subsequent observation nights through 3 years, we only saw 15, 8, and 2 additional fish. It became too discouraging after a while to stay up so late for the full or new moon cycle high tide, dress extra warmly for the chilly, windy Monterey area beaches (we're definitely not like SoCal where they run around in shorts in the summer - ha!), trudge ourselves to the beach, wait around for an hour and a half or so in the dark, ooh and ahh over dead birds and camped homeless on the beach, stagger our freezing cold, wet, and sandy feet back to... eh-hem, well you get my drift. All for what, to count a handful of fish, maybe?  The worst was trying to function the next day on only a couple hours of sleep after 3 nights in a row.  Dr. Karen Martin at Pepperdine University and I have kept in contact through the years, and she and I have traded both encouragement and discouragement about the situation here in Monterey.  I held out hope.

When we pulled into parking at 10:42 well before the 11:02 high tide time, our good ol' friend Charlie was there with 2 of his night heron buddies and an oddball gull gobbling up fish.  From then until exactly 11:45 huge groups of grunion, maybe 30 to 300 at a time, washed up with each wave, dug themselves into the sand, danced a little dance, and then slithered and flopped back to the water with the next big enough wave.  We saw well over 1000 grunion, if not more. Makes that previous record of 31 from 4 years ago seem kind of paltry.

Okay, so, I fully admit I was molesting the fish by flashing my camera left and right to catch the action.  I still had the nerve to tell people with buckets that grunion season is closed.  Andy wasn't so sure, but I remembered April and May are no collecting months.  One fellow became verbally challenging, which gave Andy a major bad vibe about the guy.  Fortunately, his cohorts were cooperative.  Another fellow was picking up grunion right in front of us and putting them into a plastic shopping bag.  Initially he pretended he couldn't speak English, but I was adamant that he return the fish to the water.  Reluctantly, he did with the intention to return later.  I felt kinda bad for my bullying behavior.  Then, a fellow up on the pier related a story to me of how one time in SoCal a friend of his shouted "La luna, la luna!" and disappeared for a few minutes only to return with bags full of grunion.  They cooked them in tin cans over a fire.  He said they're a sweet tasting fish and the "caviar" was good.  I had the suspicion that he was homeless with a dirty duffel nearby. I liked him because he was very polite and kept calling me "Holy Lady".  We eventually left when we hadn't seen anymore grunion for half an hour.  Plus, the illicit pier activities seemed to uptick after midnight, complete with a man vomiting out of a parked car next to mine.  That was totally gross, and the other stuff made us nervous for our safety.  We're not sure if we're going to out again Sunday night since high tide will be later and the weather is looking chillier.