Death at King Harbor: Millions of Sardines Blanket the Beach

Dead sardinesPhoto: CODE 4

Millions of dead fish, mostly sardines, washed up in King Harbor, Redondo Beach, California, on the morning of March 8th, 2011. The large number of sardines that floated to the surface at the beach literally created a massive stink. The scene was terrible. Hundreds of people gathered at the beach, wondering what would happen to those dead fish. Could they still be eaten? The most frightening question that came to mind was what caused a giant school of millions of sardines to end up dead on the beach?

Look at the image above. Floating on the marina’s ocean surface are not beautiful sailboats but millions of dead fish, creating a massive silvery pool of dead fish. What is the cause of the mystery? Nothing like this has ever been seen before. Did the fish run out of oxygen? Was it because of pollution or was it an oil spill? Earlier, it was believed that the large number of fish just depleted all the oxygen in the water. Authorities with the California Department of Fish and Game declared the mass death a natural event. Later, biologists checked the water’s oxygen level, and surprisingly, there was no oxygen.

Another possibility, the most likely one, is that the fish were blown into the harbor by the night’s high waves and windy weather, into a corner where there was not enough water to sustain them. The fish may have all gotten disoriented and, all forced into one tiny spot, died unable to find their way back to a safer place. Andrew Hughan, spokesman of the California Department of Fish and Game said: “If they turned right instead of left, they’d be fine”.

Sardines st Redondo Beach King HarborPhoto: Neil Armstrong2Apart from covering the water surface, millions of dead fish line the bottom of the beach

Finally, the biggest challenge was the clean-up. Many workmen and volunteers came forward. “What you see on the surface right now, you’re only seeing about a quarter of what’s actually out there. So we’ve surprisingly cleaned quite a few of the fish out already that we can get to,” said Steve Hyink, Chief Redondo Beach Fire Department Division.

wheelbarrow of dead sardinesPhoto: marinaboyA worker hauls a wheelbarrow of dead sardines in King Harbor

Cleaning the beach was a massive effort. Still, what caused millions of dead fish to rise from the sea like that will remain a mystery. How were they slammed up against the harbor wall, and how did they use up all the oxygen? Were the fish trying to escape an algae bloom or was it because of pole flipping? Research is going on.

Sources: 1, 2