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 …

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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18 Responses to What Do The Sardines Know?

  1. GreenDharma says:

    I think they was union sardines… Heard they wad gonna get canned .. And panicked


  2. Luisa Puig Duchaineau says:

    Heh-heh: dead fish tell no tales. (tee-hee-hee)


    • Mike Young says:

      “Maybe it was only Humboldt squids; but lately those buggers have been attacking fishermen, so something funny is going on out there.”

      God I hope not those things hunt cooperatively in shoals of 1200 or so


  3. I thought that the sardines all ran away during my childhood never to be seen in our southerly waters. They left behind a bevy of weeping Portuguese guys and rotting boats. I continued to see them packed in ovaly cans with pictures of extinct Scandinavian kings. I just assumed they went to the North Atlantic. These who passed our way on the path to perdition must be the great 7/8x removed relatives returning on the waves of race memory, chased, as you say by the unknown terrors of the deep. Or haunted by the ghost of that long ago San Pedro fleet.


  4. Chris says:

    “And only the sardines know. . .” followed (on my page, at least ) by a FOOD PRESS link to Thick and Rich Chololate Pudding. Kagian whimsey?


  5. Great. NOW how am I suppose to sleep….


  6. Kate says:

    Steven: for the last couple of decades, those vanishing sardines have come back as unexpectedly as they disappeared. They cruise up and down the coast between San Diego and Monterey nowadays, cocking snooks at the boutiques now set up in the abandoned canning factories. And now, choking King Harbour with their mysterious dead … Ironic, innit?

    Chris: really? Chocolate pudding? Man, that is wonderful! Gotta be Kageian whimsey.

    Luisa: they tell tales, we just can’t figure out what they mean!

    Dre: hardee har, darned if I know.


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  8. Margaret says:

    Ooh, you ARE having a good time—C’thulhu indeed! Heh!
    Or perhaps sardine migration someow got a lemming-like quirk in it, or the Fearless Leader didn’t want to ask for directions? “Oy, Fred, wasn’t that supposed to be a left turn…” Oops.


  9. Kate says:

    Margaret: funny thing, that – if the sardines had turned left when they came past the breakwater wall, they evidently would have found their way out again to the open sea. But they turned right, according to the news last night, and trapped themselves in shallow water. So the question is: How did you know?


  10. Mark says:

    While a megalodon or Cathulu mythos god certainly adds amusement value to the story, a Scripps Institute scientist offering alternative theories suggested their seeking refuge in the Harbor simply be the result of predator pressure from one or more Humpback or Fin Whales…..which find sardine schools a tasty treat.

    And speaking of tasty treats, today while shopping in a Ranch 99 market, an older Asian woman asked her younger companion what was wrong with Californians… “If the heavens provided this many fish, why wasn’t some enterprising family making lots of fish sauce?”


  11. Medrith says:

    My grandson Paul the Future Paleontologist would prefer the cause to be plesiosaurs.


  12. Kate says:

    Medrith: I applaud your grandson. Kage herself had a fascination with icthyosaurs. They are mentioned repeatedly all through the Company series – she put one in almost every book.


  13. David says:

    I dunno–I’m still on the theme of apports/ooports from your last posts. Why should that phenomenon be restriced to cars in Pismo? Some other-worldly thing just pops into the water, scares the fish (and is possibly startled itself) and then pops out? It could happen. Probably did. And then? ;o)


  14. Kate says:

    David: I like the portal/visitor theory, too. But one cannot discount the tendency of large marine life forms to hang about long after we think they’re extinct. On the other hand, hordes of ravening Humboldt squids are scarier than anything I could imagine.

    As to only cars coming through – oh no, lots of things do that! Kage just liked the cars.


  15. Margaret says:

    Mwahaha! Perhaps it’s my hitherto-undetected psychic powers? Though I doubt most people would think of communing with a zillion deceased sardines as a ‘power.’
    On a more cheerful note, I got a copy of Dann & Dozois’ The Dragon Book from Amazon, and am pleased to learn that Smith, Mrs. Smith and their hotel are doing well.


  16. Kate says:

    Margaret: yes, indeed, the redoubtable Smith and his merry crew are doing well. Especially with the dragons cleared away. BTW, as a note of interest, a lot of the little dragons’ habits and general attitude have a lot in common with wicked little parrots … this was one of the stories where Kage giggled most of the way through it.


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