REDONDO BEACH, Calif. (Reuters Life!) - Millions of dead sardines were found floating on Tuesday in a harbor marina just south of Los Angeles, puzzling authorities and triggering a massive cleanup effort.
Television news footage showed masses of dead fish, said by a police spokesman to be about a foot deep on the surface, choking the waters in and around dozens of private boat slips in King Harbor Marina in Redondo Beach.
"Essentially Basin 1 of Redondo Beach Harbor is full of dead sardines floating on the water, probably five percent of the total basin harbor is filled with sardines that are dead," California Department of Fish and Game spokesman Andrew Hughan told Reuters.
Hughan said biologists had tentatively concluded that the fish, initially identified by police as anchovies, died from oxygen deprivation after being driven by a storm into a closed-off pier area.
"It looks like they just swam in the wrong direction and ended up in a corner of the pier that doesn't have any free-flowing oxygen in it," Hughan said.
"There's nothing that appears to be out of sorts, no oil sheen, no chemicals, no sign of any kind of illegal activity," he said. "As one fisherman just told me, this is natural selection."
Hughan said such incidents were rare but not unheard of.
While biologists concluded their investigation, authorities were beginning the job of removing the fish from the water, using buckets and nets.
"The issue now is cleanup because we have tons and tons of dead fish rotting and putrefying, which obviously creates hazardous material," Redondo Beach Police Sgt. Phil Keenan said. "We're in the process of figuring out what we're going to do."
Keenan said authorities were trying to decide where they should put the dead fish and were considering dumping them several miles out to sea.
Trudy Padilla, the marina's tenant services coordinator, said the dead fish suddenly began showing up overnight, and that one end of the marina has been blocked off as cleanup operations get organized.
King Harbor Marina provides 850 boat slips to private vessels.
(Writing Dan Whitcomb and Steve Gorman; Editing by Jerry Norton)