REDONDO BEACH (CBS) — Millions of dead fish invaded King Harbor in Redondo Beach Tuesday morning.

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KNX 1070’s Ron Kilgore Reports

The surface of the water was covered in places by tons of the fish, in places a foot thick, Redondo Beach police said. Some observers estimated more than a billion fish went belly-up overnight and this morning.

The cleanup is being handled by the county Department of Public Works. The job could take several days, as dead fish on the bottom decompose and float to the surface.

Sardines move in gigantic schools, sometimes called “bait balls,” and the yesterday’s high winds could have driven them into the harbor, which is in a pocket at the southern end of Santa Monica Bay. Yesterday’s strong winds were out of the northwest.

California Department of Fish and Game officials believe the fish “got lost” in rough seas and made a wrong turn at the breakwater, ending up in the harbor, where they used up all the available oxygen.

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Initial testing revealed no sign of natural toxins, such as domoic acid, which sometimes kills marine life.

Officials said there was no health hazard, and the city was doing a good job in handling the cleanup.

Crews, who were using garbage cans to scoop up the dead fish, were scrambling to dispose of them before the stink grew worse.

Keenan said authorities believe many of the sardines died from “oxygen deprivation.”

“Sardines consume a lot of oxygen, and there was not a lot of oxygen in the confined area where they were; and so they died of oxygen deprivation,” officials said. “It’s like putting too many fish in a small aquarium.”

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