© Santa Cruz Sentinel/Terri Morgan - Contributed
Thousands of dead anchovies littered the beach in Capitola on Friday morning.
A bizarre scene unfolded at the beach in Capitola on Friday afternoon with thousands of dead fish on the beach and a paste-like substance in the water. Though it's unclear if the substance led to the death of the fish, police cleared the water as a precautionary measure.

About 3 p.m., there was a report of a tan, paste-like substance floating on the surface of the ocean near Esplanade Park, Sgt. Cliff Sloma said. "There's an unknown type substance in the water and as a precautionary measure, we've had people exit the water," Sloma said.

Central Fire and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife were on scene to assist as was Santa Cruz County's environmental health team.

While people were permitted on the beach, lifeguards were keeping people from entering the water for precautionary measures, Sloma said.

Early Friday morning, beachgoers discovered thousands of dead anchovies washed up on shore adjacent to the pasty patch in the water. The fish lined the beach between the Esplanade and New Brighton State Beach.

About 6:30 a.m., Soquel resident Terri Morgan said she didn't know what to make of the scene as she and her dog, Buster, walked the beach. "It was like the whole beach was covered," said Morgan, who works as a freelance writer for the Sentinel. The fish were mostly anchovies, Morgan said. Morgan said it was difficult not to step on a fish as she walked along the beach.

"It was almost kind of mind-blowing," she said. "I know it happens every summer somewhere along the coast but it was just like 'oh wow.'" Sloma said it's unclear if the anchovies washing on shore and the substance in the water were related. "The anchovies dying off is a regular thing at this time of the year," Sloma said. "I can't say whether it's connected or not."

The fish in Capitola come a week after a similar scene at Manresa State Beach where thousands of dead white croaker fish covered about 700 yards of beach. Fish and Wildlife officials believe the fish met their demise when they were mistakenly caught in the net of an unknown squid boat before being released.