LOS ANGELES — Millions of anchovies, mackerel, sardines and other small fish washed up dead overnight in the harbor area of Redondo Beach, Calif., just south of Los Angeles, puzzling authorities and triggering a cleanup effort.
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Local television news footage showed the mass 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 the King Harbor Marina.
Biologists have tentatively concluded that the fish died from oxygen deprivation after being driven by a storm into a closed-off pier area, California Department of Fish and Game spokesman Andrew Hughan told Reuters.
"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.
High winds might then have kept the fish from leaving the harbor and they all crushed up against the harbor wall, where they used up the oxygen and suffocated.
"There's nothing that appears to be out of sorts, no oil sheen no chemicals, no sign of any kind of illegal activity," Hughan said. "As one fisherman just told me, this is natural selection."
Hughan said such incidents were rare but not unheard of.
While biologists investigated, 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 ... which obviously creates hazardous material," Redondo Beach Police Sgt. Phil Keenan said. "We're in the process of figuring out what were going to do."
Trudy Padilla, the marina's tenant services coordinator, said the dead fish suddenly began showing up overnight, and that one end of the marina was blocked off as cleanup operations got organized.
She said the smell of decay has not become so strong yet, "but it's going to if they don't clean up the fish."
King Harbor Marina provides 850 boat slips to private vessels.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.