Diving With Goliath Grouper Florida

Brent Mccoy
• Tuesday, 28 September, 2021
• 7 min read

I usually have my eye on far-off horizons when it comes to scuba diving adventures -- to places like the remote Tuamotu Atolls of French Polynesia that teem with sharks, or the heart of the coral triangle in Indonesia’s Raja Am pat. And the chance to dive with fish that tip the 400-pound mark (sometimes even twice that) had me beelining it for Palm Beach County in Florida earlier this month.

grouper goliath diving palm beach
(Source: www.youtube.com)


Each year off the coast of Jupiter, Florida, between late July and early October, hundreds of grouper -- some the size of golf carts, and up to 10 feet long -- show up to sow their wild oats in a spawning event that’s been likened to an underwater orgy. I did a giant stride off the boat with my BCD emptied of air and let my own weight pull me gently down, down, down through glacier-blue water as warm as a bathtub.

Suddenly, there they were: a band of eight enormous fish that appeared to be posing like some indie rock group on an album cover, staggered in style and hovering a few feet off the seabed. They do the deed right around the new moon, usually at night or in the early morning hours, and it’s apparently a fast and furious affair.

Known as the grouper ’s “bark,” the fish make these aggressive sounds with a muscle in their swim bladders as a form of communication during the spawning event. At one point I caught sight of a sleeping nurse shark, easily eight feet long, tucked away under an outcropping of reef.

I swam atop the wreck to fin through clouds of tropical fish and enjoy the neutral buoyancy that feels, more than ever these days, like therapy. Somewhere beyond the grouper, out in the blue, the glint of a patrolling reef shark registered on my radar -- exciting in itself, but the big fish had long ago stolen the show.

DINE : Goliath grouper have been a federally protected species since 1990 and also have high levels of mercury in their bodies, so you won’t find them on local menus. STAY : Check into the brand-new downtown West Palm Beach property, The Ben, with a gorgeous rooftop pool and a restaurant, Spruce, with views over the Intracoastal Waterway.

diving goliath groupers amazing
(Source: www.youtube.com)

Some scientist friends out of Florida State University’s Coleman and Koenig Laboratory have been studying their movements, and they’ve identified the Jupiter area as the epicenter of their spawning activities on the Atlantic Coast. I’ve had the fortune to dive with these experts many times, and it's hard to describe what it’s like to be 50 to 90 feet below the surface in clear, blue warm water swimming with 70 or so groupers that are almost all bigger than a man.

The technology is basically the same as what’s used when you swipe your groceries at a cash register: When X grouper swims past one of the receivers, the device scans and identifies the fish. The goliathgrouper fishes are now on the move, headed toward the wrecks and reefs off Jupiter, Home Sound and Stuart where they aggregate to spawn, primarily in late July through early September.

The Goliath groupers have begun their yearly aggregation on our wrecks and reefs. We counted half a dozen of them on our newest wreck, the M/V Ana Cecilia.

Reserve your spot to dive with the groupers early as our trips are filling fast. It’s friendly demeanor and curiosity gets you within arms reach of it many times.

Now multiply this encounter by sixty plus and you are experiencing the best goliathgrouperdiving anywhere in the world. Palm Beach, Florida is hands down the best place to be if you want to see these leviathans in all their splendor.

looe key diving goliath grouper florida
(Source: www.youtube.com)

The wrecks in Palm Beach are the perfect hangout for these behemoth fish. Today’s morning trip included a stop at this great series of wrecks in search of the Goliath groupers.

Easily outweighing and almost out sizing the divers, these large sea bass (the largest of their kind in the world) are actually quite timid. Chase them and you’ll be doing nothing more than getting tail shots of these fish and running low on your air supply quickly.

Sitting back and letting their curiosity get the better of them is the best recipe for those closeup shots. Sea turtles, rays, and countless fish live around these wrecks.

With today’s ideal conditions and 3-4 dozen Goliath groupers to keep us in a constant state of awe, it is easy to understand why a few of us decided to do a second dive on the same wreck while the other divers were at a nearby reef. If the photos from today’s dive don’t convince you, then make sure to check out the recent article written in the National Geographic Magazine about the Goliath groupers.

The Goliath groupers normally stick around, with their numbers increasing throughout the months, until October. Don’t miss the opportunity to see these massive fish in all their splendor.

palm beach west grouper goliath diving florida fun scuba laz reports dec condition posted
(Source: www.puravidadivers.com)

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One of the fish’s favorite places to spawn is the MG-111, “the largely unrecognizable remains of an old Mississippi River barge that lies about 65 feet underwater,” Terry Ward wrote for Thrilling. Explore The country's largest underground lake is just two hours from Atlanta Ward went diving among the Goliath groupers (Epimetheus Tamara), which can grow to be 8 feet long and 1,000 pounds.

“Suddenly, there they were: a band of eight enormous fish that appeared to be posing like some indie rock group on an album cover, staggered in style and hovering a few feet off the seabed,” Ward wrote. Known as the grouper ’s ’bark,’ the fish make these aggressive sounds with a muscle in their swim bladders as a form of communication during the spawning event.

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grouper goliath florida aggregation groupers diving species conservation diver castor scuba marine travel dive
(Source: scubadiverlife.com)

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The goliathgrouper snapped at Saber’s right fin, taking it clean off and before he realized what had just happened, the fish grabbed the amber jack and swam away with his prize (still attached to the spear-gun). Fortunately, the goliathgrouper ate the amber jack and discarded the spear and gun in the sand a quarter mile away, where Saber retrieved them.

The GoliathGrouper is among the largest species of money reef fish found in tropical waters around the world. Demo President Tom Ingram and Legislative Advocate Bob Harris, delivered written and spoken remarks in support of diving businesses during two days of meetings with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FCC) in Fort Lauderdale.

Both Harris and Ingram provided comments on the need to protect sharks and GoliathGrouper in Florida waters. During the meeting held on April 25th, Demo provided remarks in favor of enforcing existing laws that prevent the intentional targeting and landing on shore of several protected species of sharks, among them Great Hammerheads and Tigers.

grouper goliath florida diving giant scuba atlantic scubadiving dive
(Source: www.scubadiving.com)

Demo asked FCC to consider the need for stronger enforcement of established regulations including revoking the fishing privileges of offenders. In addition, Demo also asked FCC to adopt regulations that ban shore-based shark fishing in the vicinity of designated public bathing areas.

At the end of this meeting, Commissioners instructed FCC staff to initiate the process of rule making, with the goal of ensuring the protection of these at-risk sharks. During the meeting held on April 26th, Demo, along with 57 additional attendees spoke in opposition to the possibility that FCC would lift a 28-year moratorium on harvesting the protected GoliathGrouper, including the possibility of a “limited harvest” to provide fishing opportunities in the fishing community.

In addition to the lack of the good science needed to consider a change in the Goliath ’s status, dive operators from all over Florida have enjoyed the tremendous business boost provided by divers’ desire to see these gigantic and slow-moving fish. Demo provided the dive stores and divers commenting in opposition to lifting the moratorium with “SAVE THE GOLIATHGROUPER t-shirts, and signs to remind Commissioners of the value of these important and endangered animals.

Requesting that the Commission reject any recommendations to implement a “limited harvest” of these fish, especially as the FCC staff indicated that such a limited harvest “serves no valid data collection purpose” and would raise consumption concerns because of high mercury levels in large Goliath. Funds raised through membership revenue, Demo Show, and sponsorships support programs that directly benefit the recreational diving industry.

Equipped with a capacious Edward G. Robinson-esque lower jaw and weighing as much as 360 kg, or 793 pounds, encountering one while you're diving or snorkeling can give you pause. As the video shows, these big bruisers are generally placid and move slowly, Arrive reports.

grouper goliath diver scuba endangered epinephelus alamy protected fl itajara
(Source: www.alamy.com)

Along with over-fishing, the groupers are also susceptible to stresses caused by cold water and red tides which killed scores of them in 1971 and 2003. In the sparkling waters where they live, these giants feed on an array of tasty treats: Crustaceans such as spiny lobsters, shrimps, crabs, and fish such as stingrays and parrot fish make up a good part of their diet, Arrive reports.

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02: Atlantic Goliath Grouper
03: Atlantic Goliath Grouper Diet
04: Atlantic Goliath Grouper Predators
05: Atlantic Goliath Grouper Wikipedia
06: Atlantic Grouper Season 2021
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08: Fastest Florida Fishing Brands
09: Fastest Florida Fishing Calendar
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1 www.takemefishing.org - https://www.takemefishing.org/florida/fishing/how-to-fish-in-florida/essential-florida-fishing-guide/
2 keepamericafishing.org - https://keepamericafishing.org/keep-florida-fishing-thanks-gov-desantis-for-including-fishing-as-an-essential-activity-under-executive-order-20-91-safer-at-home/
3 emposoft.com - https://emposoft.com/5-of-the-best-florida-fishing-spots-for-your-next-vacation/
4 miamifishing.com - http://miamifishing.com/fishing-reports/essential-bottom-fishing-rigs-comprehensive-guide