Estimates put the number of fish that washed up dead in the harbor area of Redondo Beach, California at approximately a million fish. Puzzled authorizes have been working on a clean-up effort to eradicate the dead fish which stack over a foot deep on some parts of the marina floor.
The King Harbor Marina, just south of Los Angeles, provides 850 boat slips to private vessels. Within a closed-off section of its pier, the California Department of Fish and Game has declared that the number of dead fish can be estimated at roughly one million. The majority of these are fish sardines, but a number of local small fish also filled the masses.
According to the California Fish and Game, biologists have tentatively concluded that the fish died from oxygen deprivation after being driven by a storm into a closed-off pier area. Their spokesman, Andrew Hughan said, “It looks like they just swam in the wrong direction and ended up in a corner of the pier that doesn’t have any free-flowing oxygen in it.”
“There’s nothing that appears to be out of sorts, no oil sheen, no chemicals, no sign of any kind of illegal activity,” Hughan said. “As one fisherman just told me, this is natural selection.”
Local authorities said that incidents such as these were rare but not unheard of. Nonetheless, the scale was impressive to locals at King Harbor.
Some of the dead fish have been shipped to a Fish and Game laboratory for study, but according to the authorities the cause is likely to be uncomplicated. “The fish appeared to have come into the marina during the night and probably couldn’t find their way out,” said Hughan.
According to him, there is no safety issue at all but “it’s going to smell bad for quite a while.”
The local fire department, harbor patrol, and other various city workers were helping to scoop the dead fish up in nets and buckets. From there, a skip loader would carry them into large trash bins.
Cleaning up a million fish is no easy task and city officials estimate the cleanup will cost them $100,000. The local Fire Chief Dan Madrigal said the fish would be taken to a landfill specializing in organic materials.
While city workers did their part to clean up the mess, nature was doing its own part.
“The seals are gorging themselves,” Hughan said. The mass of dead fish has led to a feeding frenzy amongst local predators. Other large groups of fish could be seen nibbling at the floating carcasses.
“The sea’s going to recycle everything. It’s the whole circle-of-life thing,” Hughan said.
The marina’s tenant services coordinator, Trudy Padilla, said the dead fish suddenly began showing up overnight, and that one end of the marina was blocked off as cleanup operations went underway. The smell of decay had not become overwhelming yet, but she claimed, “It’s going to if they don’t clean up the fish.”
Despite the initial statements by the Fish and Game Department, some of the locals have developed their own stories of what they believe was the cause.
Gabrielli, a marina employee, claimed that the fish must have have moved into the harbor to escape a red tide, and then possibly became trapped due to high winds overnight.
Ed Parnell, a marine ecologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography called Gabrielli’s theory plausible. Although Parnell said that these types of mass fish deaths are more typically seen in the Gulf of Mexico or the Salton Sea; the enormous desert lake in southeastern California where millions of fish have been known to die overnight.
Redondo Beach police sergeant, Phil Keenan, said he believed that a predator fish probably chased the sardines into the marina where the small area forced them into suffocation.
Raphael Kudela, a professor of ocean sciences at University of California, Santa Cruz, called it “unusual but not uncommon.” According to him, sardines are not very intelligent fish.
“They are that dumb actually,” he said. “It’s possible they were avoiding a red tide or a predator forced them into shallow water. They get into shallow water and then can’t figure out how to get back out and you’ve got such a concentration in one small area they literally pull the oxygen down until they suffocate.”
Photo source: Flavia Brandi