A million dead fish clog California marina

Fish and Game officials said they think the sardines depleted oxygen levels and suffocated, but remain unsure

Topics: Environment,

A million dead fish clog California marinaA Los Angeles County lifeguard scoops up dead fish in the King Harbor area of Redondo Beach, south of Los Angeles, Tuesday, March 8, 2011. An estimated million fish turned up dead on Tuesday, puzzling authorities and triggering a cleanup effort. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)(Credit: AP)

An estimated 1 million fish turned up dead Tuesday in a Southern California marina, creating a floating feast for pelicans, gulls and other sea life and a stinky mess for harbor authorities.

Boaters awakened to find a carpet of small silvery fish surrounding their vessels, said Staci Gabrielli, marine coordinator for King Harbor Marina on the Los Angeles County coast. Authorities said there was also a 12- to 18-inch layer of dead fish on the bottom of the marina.

California Fish and Game officials said the fish were sardines that apparently depleted the water of oxygen and suffocated.

“All indications are it’s a naturally occurring event,” said Andrew Hughan, a Fish and Game spokesman at the scene.

The die-off was unusual but not unprecedented, he said.

“In the world of fishing this is an afternoon’s catch,” he noted.

Nonetheless, the scale was impressive to locals at King Harbor, which shelters about 1,400 boats on south Santa Monica Bay.

“The fishermen say they’ve never seen anything this bad that wasn’t red tide,” Hughan said, referring to the natural blooms of toxic algae that can kill fish.

Hughan said water samples showed no oils or chemicals that could have contributed to the deaths. He said some of the fish were being shipped to a Fish and Game laboratory for study but the cause was likely to be uncomplicated.

The fish appeared to have come into the marina during the night and probably couldn’t find their way out, he said.

“The simplest explanation is the fish got lost. … They get confused easily,” he said.

Hughan said there was no safety issue at all but “it’s going to smell bad for quite a while.”

Fire Department, Harbor Patrol and other city workers set to work scooping up fish in nets and buckets. A skip loader then carried them to big trash bins. Local officials initially estimated there were millions of fish, but Fish and Game roughly estimated about 1 million.

City officials estimated the cleanup would cost $100,000. Fire Chief Dan Madrigal said the fish would be taken to a landfill specializing in organic materials.

On the water, nature was tackling the problem in other ways.

“The seals are gorging themselves,” Hughan said.

Large groups of other fish could be seen nibbling at the floating mats of dead creatures.

“The sea’s going to recycle everything. It’s the whole circle-of-life thing,” Hughan said.

Although the Fish and Game authorities were focusing on the idea that the sardines simply got confused, other theories abounded.

Hughan noted that some fishermen reported waves were coming over the harbor breakwaters during the night. That washes bird excrement off the rocks and into the marina and can cause the water to be depleted of oxygen.

You Might Also Like

Gabrielli, the marina employee, said the fish appeared to have moved into the harbor to escape a red tide, 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 generally he would expect that the wind would have mixed oxygen into the water. Parnell said these types of fish kills are more typically seen in the Gulf of Mexico or the Salton Sea, the enormous desert lake in southeastern California where millions of fish die with some regularity.

Brent Scheiwe, an official of Sea Lab, a Los Angeles Conservation Corps research program at Redondo, said the fish may have gotten trapped in the 30-foot deep marina while sheltering from rough seas overnight.

“They like to follow each other, so it only takes a few” to create a mass migration, he said.

“Over time they will find their way out, but if it’s rough out there they probably stayed in shelter,” he said.

Redondo Beach police Sgt. Phil Keenan said he believed a predator fish chased the sardines into the marina where their sheer numbers caused them to suffocate.

Raphael Kudela, a professor of ocean sciences at University of California, Santa Cruz, called it “unusual but not uncommon.”

Kudela said sardines are not the brightest 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.”

Carl Johnson, 59, and his wife, Marie, 57, came from nearby Torrance to see the fish calamity.

“We’ve had that stuff of the hundreds of birds dying in the Midwest and now this. … You do think about life and death,” he said.

“These fish were swimming freely yesterday,” he said philosophically.

Marie Johnson added: “It’s sad. It’s really said.”

——

Associated Press writer Noaki Schwartz in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 8
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Sonic

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Sonic's Bacon Double Cheddar Croissant Dog

    Sonic calls this a "gourmet twist" on a classic. I am not so, so fancy, but I know that sprinkling bacon and cheddar cheese onto a tube of pork is not gourmet, even if you have made a bun out of something that is theoretically French.

    Krispy Kreme

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Krispy Kreme's Doughnut Dog

    This stupid thing is a hotdog in a glazed doughnut bun, topped with bacon and raspberry jelly. It is only available at Delaware's Frawley Stadium, thank god.

    KFC

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    KFC's Double Down Dog

    This creation is notable for its fried chicken bun and ability to hastily kill your dreams.

    Pizza Hut

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Pizza Hut's Hot Dog Bites Pizza

    Pizza Hut basically just glued pigs-in-blankets to the crust of its normal pizza. This actually sounds good, and I blame America for brainwashing me into feeling that.

    Carl's Jr.

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Carl's Jr. Most American Thick Burger

    This is a burger stuffed with potato chips and hot dogs. Choose a meat, America! How hard is it to just choose a meat?!

    Tokyo Dog

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Tokyo Dog's Juuni Ban

    A food truck in Seattle called Tokyo Dog created this thing, which is notable for its distinction as the Guinness Book of World Records' most expensive hot dog at $169. It is a smoked cheese bratwurst, covered in butter Teriyaki grilled onions, Maitake mushrooms, Wagyu beef, foie gras, black truffles, caviar and Japanese mayo in a brioche bun. Just calm down, Tokyo Dog. Calm down.

    Interscope

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Limp Bizkit's "Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water"

    This album art should be illegal.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>