The Night the Fish Go Crazy
Venice Oceanarium hosts its annual Grunion Run Party
By Stephanie Case
It sounds like folklore: One night a year, under the light of a full moon, fish come out of the sea and onto land.
In this case, marine biology is stranger than fiction. Thousands of grunion — small, luminescent fish local to the California coast — wriggle onto Venice Beach each spring, inviting crowds of amazed onlookers.
As the female fish lay their eggs in the sand, dozens of male grunions eagerly leap on land to fertilize them.
Essentially, “the seashore is covered by hundreds of sex-crazed fish,” explains the Venice Oceanarium, an outdoor museum that hosts pop-up marine science events by the pier.
The Oceanarium holds its annual grunion party this Saturday night — “a big, carnival get-together” on the beach, says Tim Rudnick, the group’s director.
Each year, hundreds of families flock to the Venice Breakwater toting blankets and cameras, waiting for the natural world to go crazy.
“These memories are especially vivid for kids,” says Rudnick, once a Venice kid himself.
He still remembers his first grunion run at age four, eyes wide as the sparkly fish twisted and turned in a chaotic frenzy.
“It was like the ocean had become a wild place,” he says. “The ruckus of the sea … it was just awesome.”
This is Rudnick’s 20th year hosting the event. Each year he studies the fluxing tides, timing the grunions’ big moment to a tee. In two decades, he’s only missed it twice.
This year he’ll be hatching pre-collected grunion eggs on shore. Just add saltwater, shake them up and the eggs burst to life like popcorn, he says.
The anticipation of a moon-soaked Venice night, crossing your fingers that the grunions will arrive —then, seeing hundreds upon hundreds of fish squiggle out from the waves, glittering across the shore —is nothing short of extraordinary.
“It’s absolutely indelible” Rudnick says. “You’ll never feel the same way about L.A., and you will never forget it.”
The Grunion Run Party begins at 10:30 p.m. Saturday, April 23, at the Venice Beach Breakwater by Windward Avenue. Free. Visit veniceoceanarium.org for info.