Gretchen Parker in Cabrillo Beach, California
for National Geographic
PUBLISHED JULY 6, 2014
Just after nightfall in southern California, on sandy stretches of Pacific shoreline, a piece of marine folklore is coming to life.
It's that time of year again. The grunion are running.
Grunion (Leuresthes tennis) are skinny, silvery little fish only 5 to 6 inches (13 to 15 centimeters) long. They're not harvested commercially, and they'd probably go unnoticed if it weren't for the unusual way they spawn.
But the way they flop, en masse, out of the water and onto the shoreline, dig into the sand to lay eggs, and then scoot back into the surf has become the stuff of legend in southern California.
But how much longer will they be found here? Anecdotal evidence suggests that as hunting has increased, and as development has reduced available spawning grounds, there have been fewer strong, healthy grunion runs in recent years.