Dawn beaching of sardines a good omen, say Filipino villagers


The first Sunday of 2024 proved a blessing for superstitious villagers in Maasim in the Philippines province of Sarangani when a shoal of juvenile sardines beached along their shoreline at dawn.

Maasim, a coastal municipality located at the southernmost tip of Mindanao, witnessed this peculiar yet natural phenomenon, which the villagers interpreted as a sign that the New Year would bring good things.

“This is a blessing from God. We are thankful to God for this,” said one villager.

He and his neighbours each collected at least five buckets of sardines, while hundreds of others brought home 20 to 30 kilos each of the fish called "loopy" in the local dialect.

Residents and guests at the local beach resort rushed to the shore and used their bare hands, basins and pails to scoop up the fish.

Another resident said that his family was alerted to the fish around 3 am, prompting them to immediately rush to the area to take advantage of the unexpected bounty.

“I was nervous at first to see such an overwhelming number of fish beached along the shore. But we decided to gather them up since we considered it a blessing," he said.

His group alone hauled in more or less 500 kilograms of loopy.

"The fish will be dried for three days, after which we can sell them to the market for 8,000 pesos (about 5,000 baht)."

Officials in town assisted in overseeing the collection of what fishery experts called juvenile pelagic sardines to ensure that everyone, particularly marginalised constituents, got their share.

Cirilo Aquadera Lagnason Jr, a staff member of the Protected Area Management Office of Sarangani Bay, clarified that the beaching of the sardines did not necessarily indicate underwater seismic activities, as often misconstrued by the public.

Traditionally, old folks warn of a calamity or disaster following peculiar but scientifically explainable beaching of fish species.

Zenaida A. Dangkalan, officer-in-charge and provincial fishery officer of Sarangani, provided three reasons for the phenomenon.

"First, this might be linked to the current loopy season.

Another could be that a bigger species of fish was chasing after them, causing them to swim toward the shore since bigger fish can’t go into shallow waters. And third, the lights from the beach resort might have attracted them. This phenomenon is normal, so there’s no need to worry.”

The beaching of fish along shorelines may also be caused by a sudden change in sea temperatures and wave directions, as well as a lack of plankton for the fish to feed on.