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For kids: The grunion are running

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The gear Messrs Schaadt and Mastro are juggling above the waves is sending the live images to Mr. Henard using Skype, an Internet calling service.

It's 11:30 p.m. in San Pedro, and families are bundled up in jackets, sweat shirts, and blankets, but in Boulogne it's 8:30 in the morning, and Mr. Henard is wearing a short-sleeved shirt under sunny skies.

Fish out of water

Grunion are ordinary-looking fish that live off the coast of southern California and northern Baja California (a state in Mexico). They swim in the sea and use their gills to breathe just as other fish do. So why do crowds of people brave dark, chilly nights to see them? Because unlike other fish, grunion come completely out of water and onto land to reproduce.

Between March and August, the grunion run ashore a few nights after the new and full moons, when high tides are higher than normal. Usually between 10:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m., high tide washes the fish onto several California beaches. There, females dig their tails into the sand while males curl around them to fertilize the eggs the female fish are laying. When the process is finished – in as little as 30 seconds – they all catch the next wave back into the ocean.

The eggs remain buried in the sand and incubate for 10 to 14 days until the next new- or full-moon high tide comes in and washes them out to sea. The churning motion of the waves bursts the protective membrane of the eggs and the tiny fish are hatched.

How grunion got to France

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