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Million dead fish swamp L.A.-area marina

'Seals are gorging themselves' while leftovers are removed, dumped in bins   

Image: Dead fish

Lucy Nicholson  /  Reuters

Some of the dead fish at King Harbor Marina in Redondo Beach, Calif., are seen Tuesday. The fish were a foot thick in areas, one official said.

msnbc.com news services

LOS ANGELES  Sardines and other small fish in the hundreds of thousands washed up dead overnight in the harbor area of Redondo Beach, Calif., just south of Los Angeles, puzzling authorities and triggering a cleanup effort.

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.

"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.

A skip loader then carried them to big trash bins. Officials initially estimated there were millions of fish, but Fish and Game roughly estimated about a million.

City officials estimated the cleanup would cost $100,000. Fire Chief Dan Madrigal said the fish would be taken to a landfill specializing in organic materials.

On the water, nature was tackling the problem in other ways.

"The seals are gorging themselves," Hughan said.

Large groups of other fish could be seen nibbling at the floating mats of dead creatures.

"The sea's going to recycle everything. It's the whole circle-of-life thing," Hughan said.

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.