What Do The Sardines Know?

Kage Baker would have just been fascinated with yestreday’s mass fish death in Redondo Beach. She loved peculiar and mysterious things like this, and usually pursued them as long as she could through the news.

Which, thinking of her, I have done. Despite the overwhelming gravitational pulls of Charlie Sheen’s antics and local elections, the fatal sardine run made the evening news – and not just  in their WTF files, either. Of course, King Harbor being literally carpeted with dead sardines is rather more than just a human interest story. Some expensive boats found themselves with high fish marks yestreday …

Volunteers and city workers have come from all over to bet the floating dead and take them to a composting station. Presumably they will all be converted to fertilizer. Maybe they’ll end up spread  through the city parks. In these days of cash shortfalls and decreased park maintenance, that would be a noble ending.

The general theory now is that the sardines came to shore in a huge mass, terrified of the wind and wave action on a very windy night. We had both wind and wave warnings two nights ago, and the Channel is not very deep just there; there must have been a very turbulent upper layer of the ocean as well as a lot of silt being stirred up. So the sardines headed away from the tumult and got themselves trapped behind the King Harbor breakwater.

Most of the harbours on the L.A. coast have breakwaters, because without them – well, we basically have no harbours. The coast along here is soft-serve, not much more than mud with a hard-on.  Until people started dredging harbours and putting in breakwaters, there was nowhere for vessels to dock. But this time the fish got trapped by the man-made topography. Millions of them crowded into a couple of fathoms of water, and used up the oxygen – and then they suffocated. And voila, the sea was carpeted in dead fish.

One cannot help but wonder, though, if it was just the windy weather that stampeded them? Kage would certainly have wondered … could it be volcanic vents in the Channel floor? Imagine the dull red metallic glow, like liquid tinsel, hanging in curtains in the silty water – heat pulsing out from it to boil the nearest sardines and send their kin fleeing for the cool tide-line … only to find that the life-support system couldn’t handle the strain! Despairing fishy gasps, a storm of silver bodies flashing light in all directions, and then – devastation.

Or it could have been a Megalodon – an extinct ancestor of the Great White shark,  roughly the size of a sperm whale. Six men could sit in the arch of its jaws; you could use one of its teeth as a boogie board. We don’t really know what might be still surviving in the depths of the sea, he he he, although we can now scratch about a million sardines off the list … but if one of these vanished 50-footers was cruising out there, I would certainly run for shore.

It might even be something worse than giant sharks! It might be dark chthonic gods rising from the suburbs of R’lyeh out near Catalina Island – tentacles with suckers like man-hole covers, octopus eyes with six-foot tall square pupils glaring through the vasty deeps. Maybe the sardines were fleeing C’thulhu. Or maybe it was only Humboldt squids; but lately those buggers have been attacking fishermen, so something funny is going on out there.

Something Is Out There. Lurking. In the Channel.  In the dark. And only the sardines know …