THE GOLIATH GROUPER

Thirty years ago, when air travel was simple and the saying on diver's T-shirts was "Life is a beach and then you Dive", I tried a Resort Dive in 60 feet of water, before I was certified. This was in front of the Cozumel Cabrie Hotel in Cozumel. It was during this dive that I came face to face with an ugly 400 pound Goliath Grouper. It had two pilot fish attached to its body and was so large that, if it so desired, could of opened its large mouth and swallowed me. This sight so impressed me that I became a certified scuba diver and traveled the world hoping to see another Goliath Grouper without any luck.

The Goliath Grouper has many names, Black Bass, Jewfish, Giant Sea bass, Spotted Jewfish and Southern Jewfish. It occurs in the western Atlantic Ocean from Florida to Brazil including the Gulf of Mexico to the Caribbean Sea. The Goliath Grouper begins its early life in the mangroves and brackish estuaries near oyster bars. Once grown, it is found in inshore waters up to 150 feet. The Grouper is solitary by nature and has a limited home range. It likes areas near caves or wrecks or where there is a ledge that it can hide under. When threatened, it quivers its body to intruders and opens it mouth. It also makes a grunting sound that travels great distances under water. It does this by contracting its swim bladder. The larger the fish, the greater the sound. The sound is also used to locate other groupers in the area. The Goliath Grouper is the largest member of the Sea Bass family in the Atlantic Ocean. The widest point of its body is more than half the total length of the fish. The fish can grow to 8 feet and weigh as much as 800 pounds. It normally has a brownish yellow color with dark spots on the head and body. The oldest of these fish might live as long as fifty years.

Most of the Goliath Groupers start life as females but when they get older they turn into a male, a characteristic known as protogynus hermaphrodites. Large adult groupers are known to stalk divers and try to ambush them.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Authority have taken steps to protect the Goliath Grouper so that recent swarming, in the summer months of July, August and September, has seen an increase in their numbers.

I decided to check this fact out so I googled it. This led me to the website of the Jupiter Dive Center where Adam, the store manger, told me they had seen thirty to forty large Goliath Groupers in sixty to eighty feet of water. As it was September the 26th and almost the end of the season, I knew I had better hurry up and get to Jupiter. I thought what a sales pitch as the only Jupiter I knew was up in the heavens. Even so, I booked my flight and made a reservation to stay at the all new Jupiter Beach Resort and Spa.

Diane D'Amico made all the arrangements and I give my stay there a six star rating as the treatment was five star plus Jupiter must make it a sixth star. If Robert Parker can give 100 points to perfect wine, then I can give a six star rating to a great resort.

At 7:45 a.m. the morning after I arrived, it was show time so I drove the ten minutes to get to the Jupiter Dive Center from the resort. On the drive over, I wondered if I had been sold a bill of goods and thought about my last dive, a year and half before, in the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. That dive was uneventful and I hoped this would be different.

When I got there Adam loaded my two tanks on the Republic 1V, the dive boat that was Captained by Mike Hoffman. There were six divers, one student and his instructor Les Schwartz, two dive masters Mark and Adam and two ladies who were spear fishing. It was a very relaxed atmosphere and the Captain knew the exact locations of the sights we were going too.

At the first site, the current was a steady one and half knot. It was there I saw five or six one to two hundred pound Goliaths Groupers. They were quite skittish and swam under the rock ledge in 92 feet of water. The large male made a loud grunt and the whole group swam into the ledge from my sight. I could feel the change in the water pressure as a result of their flight. I quite enjoyed this dive and would have been happy that my trip to Jupiter was worth the time and money spent. I had seen what I had come all the way from Canada to see. Though they were not as large as the one in Cozumel, they were big enough.

It was on the second dive when Les Schwartz, who knew I had come all the way from Toronto, asked Captain Hoffman to take us to the MG 11, an old wreck, where he had seen large Goliath Groupers.

The wreck lay in 80 feet of water and around it swam six to eight goliath groupers in the 100 to 200 pound range. Les had left the student on the boat and motioned me to come to a hole at the bow of the boat. As I came to entrance of the opening I saw a very large Goliath Grouper hovering inside. I signaled to Les that my intention was to swim inside the wreck as I could see light pouring on the starboard side from another large hole. Les did not object so I went in. The large Grouper moved into the bowels of the wreck. As I was about to exit the wreck, on the starboard side, I thought I saw the whole side of the wreck move and out of the shadows came this mammoth Goliath Grouper about twice the size of the one I had seen in Cozumel. It must have been between 600 to 800 pounds and was about the seize of a mini bus. I suddenly remembered reading "Large adult groupers are known to stalk divers and try to ambush them." so given I was close to the exit, I quickly swam out with my heart pounding loudly under my B. C. I had to go back and take another peek to see if I had been dreaming. When I looked into the hole in the starboard side he (and it was male) had gone into the shadows again. When I surfaced, I was quite excited and told everyone on the boat what I had seen.

Now back in Toronto as I write this article, I have to say that the return of the Goliath Groupers to the waters off South Florida owes a lot to efforts of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Authority in making the Goliath Grouper a protected species and also in protecting the mangrove areas where their fry can grow to be as large as the ones I saw.

One thing is for sure I will be back next September.

Editors Note: Jupiter Dive Center is on 1001 Alternate A1A Suite and can be reached at 1-800-567-9723. The Jupiter Beach and Spa Resort is at the end of East Indiantown Road it is really a little "slice of luxury in paradise" on a treasured coast. The resort can also be reached at 1-800-228-8810.

BY CHRISTOPHER FERNANDEZ

Copyright 2006


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