The Big Blue Ocean Exploration

Massive school of anchovies looks like oil slick

Appearance of baitfish near shore off La Jolla amazes marine experts, who can’t recall seeing such a sight in more than 30 years

Massive school of anchovies appears to be an oil slick. Photo from Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Massive school of anchovies appears to be an oil slick. Photo from Scripps Institution of Oceanography

From a distance, the ocean near Scripps Pier off La Jolla, California, appeared to be the site of a catastrophic oil spill on Tuesday. Initially, Robert Monroe thought it was a red tide.

But it was neither.

Making a long, dark cloud in the shallow water off San Diego County was a massive school of Northern anchovies the likes of which has not been seen hugging the coast in more than 30 years.

Monroe, a communications officer with Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, saw the unusual sight and raced to the pier with a GoPro camera, according to the Los Angeles Times.

A massive school of anchovies initially looked like a red tide to Robert Monroe of Scripps. Photo courtesy of Scripps Institution of Oceanography

A massive school of anchovies initially looked like a red tide to Robert Monroe of Scripps. Photo courtesy of Scripps Institution of Oceanography

“It was remarkable,” Monroe told the Los Angeles Times. “From a distance it looked like an oil slick and you think, ‘What happened?’ and then you get up close and it’s amazing.

“It’s like watching the motion of a lava lamp.”

Not only did Monroe capture video from above, but he tossed the camera to three Scripps grad students—Julia Fiedler, Bonnie Ludka, and Sean Crosby—and got underwater video, too. Take a look:

On its Facebook page, Scripps said, “Even veteran fisheries oceanographers were amazed. This is not an oil slick off Scripps Pier. It’s a school of anchovy no one can recall seeing this close to shore in 30 years.”

Phil Hastings, a marine biologist professor and curator of the Scripps Marine Vertebrate Collection, told City News Service the millions of anchovies were first spotted Monday by lifeguards, but they were mostly dissipated by Tuesday evening.

A massive school of anchovies hasn't been seen nearshore like this in more than 30 years. Photo courtesy of Scripps Institution of Oceanography

A massive school of anchovies hasn’t been seen nearshore like this in more than 30 years. Photo courtesy of Scripps Institution of Oceanography

“Leopard sharks [one is seen in the video] were feeding on them this morning,” Hastings told CNS.

Hastings said the water at the pier was 74 degrees and “pretty much the warmest water the species has been reported in.”

The Scripps Marine Vertebrate Collection collected specimens so they could be studied, but Hastings told CNS that he doubted the mystery of the baitfish’s appearance along the shore would ever be solved.

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