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Reprise 3: Malibu Lagoon Fish Life

April 7, 2020

Editor’s Note: Entry number three in our tenth-year “blasts from the past” celebration, originally posted July 6, 2014, and number twenty on our popularity list. The mullets continued to “go forth and multiply” in the lagoon. Then August, 2018 arrived (read about it). Extreme temperatures continued for weeks, the shallow lagoon became overheated. Even the ocean was exceptionally warm and an oceanic “blob” of hot water extended northward from Baja California to Santa Barbara. Lagoon waters rose to 84°F., ten degrees above the survival point of the mullet. Warm waters lose dissolved oxygen. Fish rose to the surface, gulping air. Within a week, they died en masse. Over four thousand mullet dead were collected and counted by emergency workers. The dead dismayed beach-goers; most of us were stunned to discover that the lagoon held so many fish. The mullet are recovering, jumping again in fewer numbers, but our delight is tempered by the knowledge of what may happen again.  [Chuck Almdale]


Striped Mullet (Wikipedia)

Striped Mullet (Wikipedia)

According to Wikipedia, Striped Mullet goes by many names, including:  Black mullet (Cuba, US), Bully mullet (Australia, Vietnam), Callifaver mullet (Cuba, Netherlands Antilles, US), Common grey mullet (UK), Common mullet (Cuba, Netherlands Antilles, US), Flathead grey mullet (India, Philippines, UK), Flathead mullet (Europe, FAO, UN), Grey mullet (Thailand, Turkey, Australia, Taiwan, Cuba, Fiji, Hong Kong, Mauritius, Netherlands Antilles, New Zealand, Spain, Tonga, UK, US, Mediterranean, Egypt), Hardgut mullet (Australia), Mangrove mullet (Australia), and Sea mullet (Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, UK).

Decades ago, British and American bird mavens decided to agree on English names for all the world’s birds. They’ve made much progress, with some exceptions such as when the bird Americans knew as Common Gallinule was renamed Common Moorhen to satisfy British intransigence (recently rectified), whereupon some American birders pointed out that we don’t have moors, they’re not all hens, and they’re not all that common. LAAS’s Western Tanager newsletter, highlighting this problem of multiple nomenclature once ran an article, by Kimball Garrett & Jon Dunn, detailing how to differentiate between three then-widespread egrets: Common, Great and American. [It was an April first issue in I forget which year.]

Fish lovers have made no such progress, as any piscivore should know. Surely you are aware that Chilean sea bass was previously known as Patagonian toothfish; the name change was a marketing decision – sea bass sounded far more scrumptious than toothfish, and anyway, no real red-blooded American knows where Patagonia is. [The friendly sales people at REI will gladly direct you towards their clothing racks.]

Which brings us around to the mullet many have seen leaping friskily from Malibu Lagoon in recent months. The New England Aquarium says they are also called jumping mullet or jumping jack (take that, Wikipedia!) because of this behavior. I couldn’t find out if this is a courting display, a feeding behavior, an attempt to shake off parasites or a recreational activity. [Anyone out there know?]

If you haven’t personally witnessed this phenomenon, check out the Dance of the Striped Mullet slideshow on Bob Purvey’s EcoMalibu website.

EcoMalibu also has a video page of forty different films pertaining to Malibu Lagoon and the reconfiguration project.  The following is a list of short underwater films taken near the water monitoring stations (those posts with vertical depth gauges) ; you’ll be surprised at how much life is swimming around down there.  This list, along with many other delights, is on our permanent Malibu Lagoon Project page. [Chuck Almdale]

1. Aug. 7, 2013 Length 1:48 minutes “Life Below the Surface”
2. Aug. 12, 2013 Length 9:20 minutes “Malibu Lagoon Aquarium”
3. Sep. 9, 2013 Length 4:55 minutes “Malibu Lagoon Aquarium III”
4. Sep. 30, 2013 Length 1:47 minutes “Shrimpfest”
5. Oct. 2, 2013 Length 2:42 minutes “Malibu Lagoon Aquarium IV”
6. Oct. 22, 2013 Length 8:31 minutes “Fish, Fish, Fish”
7. Nov. 4, 2013 Length 0:57 minutes “The Big Fish”
8. Apr. 30, 2014 Length 3:36 minutes “Lagoon Crustaceans”
9. Jun. 18, 2014 Length 3:49 minutes “Aquarium & Aviary”
10. Jun. 25, 2014 Length 2:21 minutes “Got Fish? Malibu Lagoon Does”
11. Jun. 25, 2014 Length 2:08 minutes “Shrimpfest II”
12. Jul. 7, 2014 Length 1:56 minutes “Mullet Adult School”

One Comment
  1. c prismonreed permalink
    April 7, 2020 8:32 am

    hi all… seeing the slide show, i thought it worthwhile to suggest another reason for the jumping behavior of our mullet: they are learning to fly; seeing all those birds with such freedom, they naturally want to mimic. a side benefit: perhaps the birds will think they (mullet) are also birds and will not make them into meals.

    i think MC Escher did a picture of this transformative behavior. not sure if it can be found on line…

    just a random “shelter at home” thought….

    well back atcha – c.prismon-reed 松林 songlin/ 송림 songlim ______________________________ * 詩人 小蘭 * “a poet is a small orchid”

    On Tue, Apr 7, 2020, 05:12 SANTA MONICA BAY AUDUBON SOCIETY BLOG wrote:

    > Chukar posted: “Editor’s Note: Entry number three in our tenth-year > “blasts from the past” celebration, originally posted July 6, 2014, and > number twenty on our popularity list. The mullets continued to “go forth > and multiply” in the lagoon. Then August, 2018 arrived (re” >


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