The juvenile Goliath grouper, which is less than 39 inches (100 cm), is tawny or yellowish-brown in color with irregular darker brown vertical bands. The larger adult fish is gray or greenish with pale blotches and smaller dark brown or blackish spots scattered over the upper part of its head, body and pectoral fins.
The goliathgrouper is capable of producing a loud booming noise, which may be used to defend territory or during courtship. The Goliath grouper feeds primarily on crustaceans, especially spiny lobsters, as well as turtles, fish and stingrays.
This species is an ambush hunter that feeds during the day, with increased activity during the low-light periods of dawn and dusk. This is accompanied by rapidly expansion of its jaws and flaring of the gill covers which create a vacuum that sucks the prey into its mouth.
The Goliath grouper occurs in the western Atlantic from Florida to southern Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Populations began to decline in the 1960s when recreational SCUBA divers would swim up to the fearless fish and spear it at close range.
This consists of a “threat display” to intruders by opening its mouth wide and shaking its body or producing a loud booming sound (see below). The Goliath grouper will travel many miles during one or two months each year to mate in huge spawning aggregations at traditional breeding grounds.
As the male approaches the female, its entire forebode, from the pectoral fins forward, turns pale, contrasting sharply with its dark rest of the body. The eggs hatch into transparent larvae that quickly develop long spines and a large mouth.
After drifting with the current for 25 to 45 days, the one-inch larvae settle to the bottom in shallow-water mangrove habitats where they hide while completing metamorphosis into juveniles. Large areas of mangrove forests are vital for the larvae and juveniles until they reach 30 lbs.
Due to short dive times at depths of 100 feet or more, there have been few recorded observations of the courtship of the Goliath grouper. The Atlantic goliathgrouper, like most groupers, is an ambush predator and eats fairly large fishes and invertebrates and even small sharks.
Throughout most of the year, low numbers of the Atlantic Goliath groupers are observed in any one place. However, during reproduction (immediately after the full moons between June and December), they come together in groups of at least 100 individuals.
These groups are known as spawning aggregations, and they form at relatively few places throughout the species’ range. Though they were likely naturally rare, scientists believe that destructive fishing practices have reduced the numbers of the Atlantic Goliath groupers by at least 80% and that the species is now critically endangered.
Furthermore, a total lack of fear of people makes them an easy target for spear fishers. Finally, the Atlantic goliathgrouper ’s large size, slow growth, and ease of capture all contribute to slow its recovery, even where laws have been put in place to give it some or complete legal protection from fishing (e.g., in the USA and Brazil).
It is important to continue to monitor Atlantic goliathgrouper population trends in order to determine whether the species is recovering or if stronger legal protection may be required. Scientists only recently divided the species into two, based on their slightly different genetic makeup.
The two species are similar in both appearance and behavior, but little is known about the population trends or conservation status of the Pacific goliathgrouper. I learned about it from a buddy diver who excitedly told me to go diving with him upon a prompt from a classmate in high school who happened to be the mayor of that town.
Probably, I am lucky that the Goliath grouper (Epimetheus quinquefasciatus) I encountered several minutes when I plunged into the water was still a juvenile. I brought with me my automatic Nikon camera encased in a plastic casing to make it water-resistant as taking pictures is a pleasure for me each time I travel.
I grabbed the camera hanging by a tough nylon string around my wrist, and took a video of the Goliath grouper following my buddy. Despite the huge size of the Goliath grouper, they seem to be docile fishes although there are reports that they do attack humans.
I saw one video that says so but analyzing the situation, I thought the reason was mainly to feed, not really to attack. The moving fins attracted the grouper thinking probably that it was its prey and snapped on it.
When the juveniles are older, they migrate to the coral reefs and stay there for more than 40 years. When they are old enough to reproduce, the Goliath groupers migrate and spawn into the deeper water column, fertilize the eggs which then are carried by the current, hatch then drift in the currents for 30 to 80 days (Fig.
Life cycle of the Goliath grouper (Illustration by Jane Hakka, IAN Image Library (ian.umces.edu/imagelibrary/) The nearshore environment is a fragile one that should be protected or conserved considering the highly complex life that intertwine in mangrove ecosystems.
About The Author Regional, Patrick Dr. Patrick A. Regional mentored graduate and undergraduate students for more than two decades and engaged in various university and externally-funded national and international research projects as a consultant. Related to his blogging and book writing venture, he taught himself HTML, CSS, SEO, LyX/LaTeX, GIMP, and Inkscape to edit SVG, JPEG, and PNG files and WordPress.
systems analysis using Stella, ENSIM, and Sesame; CGIS mapping, SCUBA diving for work and pleasure. He likes running 2-3 miles, 3-4 times a week thus finished a 21K in 2019, and recently learned to cook at home due to COVID-19.
The Goliath, Epimetheus Tamara, is the largest grouper in the western hemisphere, and can reach 8 feet in length and more than 1,000 pounds. A 4.6-foot-long female caught at a spawning aggregation contained 57 million eggs.
For a few weeks each year, spawning aggregations of up to 100 goliathgrouper occur at specific times and locations. Small (under 4 feet, or five to six years old) goliathgrouper live around mangroves; larger adults prefer coral reefs.
These adaptable fish can live in brackish water and tolerate low oxygen levels. A goliathgrouper ’s age can be estimated using annual growth rings in its dorsal fin rays, much like those found within tree trunks.
Survival is threatened by overfishing and loss of the inshore mangrove habitat required by juveniles. Despite having teeth, goliathgrouper engulf and swallow prey whole.
Grace, Brave heart, Wilbur, Salt & Pepper, Pokémon, Julius… they are my friends, and they are the last of their kin. Today, Florida is the only place in the world where we can see Goliath's in mangroves (as babies) in the reefs (as adults) and in spawning aggregations (getting together to breed).
On April 26, 2018, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FCC) will vote on a proposal to kill the critically endangered GoliathGrouper. First, watch this 7-minute video explaining the science-based evidence on why Goliath Groupers need continued protection.
To: Chairman Brian Babinski Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Harris Bryant Building 620 S. Meridian St., Tallahassee, FL 32399 Having reviewed the GoliathGrouper Review and Discussion” produced by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FCC) for presentation on February 8, 2017, as well as for GoliathGrouper Workshops slated for August through October 2017, I am writing to express our concerns regarding the possible lifting of the current moratorium on harvesting these animals.
Demo is aware of the lead role FCC took in the 2013-2016 stock assessment conducted by the Joint Ad How Council GoliathGrouper Committee. We applaud the FCC for this effort, and we support such periodic stock assessments when they include sound scientific inquiry and input from all user groups affected by any change in the current harvesting status.
As you know, in 2016 the results of this Council’s assessment were rejected by a group of independent scientists for use in management of the stocks of goliathgrouper in federal waters, pointing to the fact that, “the results were not deemed suitable primarily because of missing information needed to generate an accurate ‘model’ of the fishery.” FCC or NOAA (or another appropriate agency or scientific organization) should conduct additional research on the age of these creatures, such that any future assessment would have more validity.
Demo’s position is taken in recognition of FCC’s own list of assessment challenges and the 2016 conclusion that information needed to generate an accurate model of the fishery was missing. Without solid scientific evidence of recovery, it appears that the goliathgrouper remains vulnerable to overfishing due to (among several reasons) late maturity, slow growth and is subject to large scale mortality.
As the Commission is also aware, over the last twenty-seven years during which harvesting was prohibited, goliathgrouper have become extremely popular hosts to underwater habitats and are mentioned frequently by visiting/tourist divers who greatly enjoy watching these remarkable creatures roam the ocean floor. The goliathgrouper ’s size, visibility, low birth rate and slow movement seem to trace another of Florida’s truly majestic waterborne creatures, the manatee, a protected species that also has considerable ecotourism value.
If harvesting is allowed without verified stock assessments, goliathgrouper could easily be thrown back to species extinction. In addition to concern regarding the stocks of these fish, Demo also relies on the opinions of divers and dive-related businesses regarding the current harvesting status of goliathgrouper.
In a July 2017 Demo survey of divers and dive professionals, more than 69% indicated their desire to maintain the current moratorium on harvesting the goliathgrouper. Demo strongly recommends maintaining the current prohibition on harvesting the goliathgrouper.
I urge FCC to continue the protection of GoliathGrouper and reject the limited take proposal. E-mails to and from FCC and NOAA are public record, so the message and email addresses are shown below accordingly.
First, the science denial is stated by the Director of FCC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (Fri). The Fri mission statement is “Through effective research and technical knowledge, we provide timely information and guidance to protect, conserve, and manage Florida’s fish and wildlife resources.” The Fri Director is a scientist who denies science.
Therefore, prior to even proposing the harvest, a solid scientific argument must be made based on evidence. Third, it seems FCC staff has a short memory span, or perhaps information gets lost in an alternate universe.
All this research shows Goliath Groupers are highly conservation dependent, and cannot withstand exploitation. It is clear that FCC folded to the pressure of trophy hunting groups, ignoring the best available science.
Every few years, FCC proposes to open a killing season for Goliath Groupers: in 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014 and now 2017. All past proposals were finally rejected in view of the scientific evidence and stakeholder opposition.
They must be itching to kill a magnificent fish, just to take a picture of the dead beast and let it rot in the sun. Because Goliath Groupers have such high levels of methyl mercury they are unsafe for human consumption.
You can’t ignore the scientific evidence confirming that Goliath Groupers have not recovered to pre-exploitation levels, and cannot handle fishing pressure without entering again in a spiral towards extinction. For some unknown reason, FCC continues to believe the zombie myth (because it never dies) that Goliath Groupers eat everything in the reef, so they are blamed for decreasing fish and lobster stocks.
Only 20 % of the workshops (Lake Worth, Stuart and Davie) can be realistically attended by the SCUBA dive businesses that rely heavily on recreational SCUBA divers who pay big money to see the GoliathGrouper spawning aggregations in East Florida between late August and early October, just when transition between the summer and winter seasons will leave these businesses in the doldrums. In order to please trophy fishers, you risk cheating all Americans of our national treasure, because nowhere else in the world you can encounter a functional population of Goliath Groupers as in Florida.
Open Letter to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FCC) Recently, at a Facebook post, FCC made the following statement: “all wild animals deserve respect and space”.
Once again, FCC is holding a meeting to discuss whether a wild animal deserves respect and space. On February 8, 2017, FCC will review the status of GoliathGrouper and “management strategies that could be considered in the future that could potentially provide additional information about this species in Florida”.
All proposals were finally rejected in view of the scientific evidence and stakeholder opposition. For such a long-lived fish, a 2 to 3-year difference between assessments to reopen the fishery is absurd.
The greatest tragedy in the GoliathGrouper story is that the institutions in charge of managing its survival can’t see beyond the “fishery” label. They are not numbers in stock assessment models but animals with complex life histories.
We killed so many Goliath Groupers once in Florida and the Southeastern USA they reached commercial extinction. Historic photo when the largest Goliath Groupers were killed in Key West, Florida, USA.
The reason most frequently used to reopen a recreational take of GoliathGrouper is the perception that Goliath Groupers eat everything and are responsible for declining fish and lobster stocks. Research done by myself and others shows that overfishing, not Goliath Groupers, is the reason for declining fish and lobster stocks.
However, the thinning is already happening because Goliath's are killed for several reasons, from the mundane (red tides, poaching) to the exotic (death by nuclear reactor). In 2005, extensive red tides killed close to 100 adult Goliath Groupers in the west coast of Florida.
In the 2009 and 2010 winters, freezing water temperatures in Florida killed 90 % of juvenile Goliath Groupers living in mangrove shorelines. In August 2011, over 75 adult Goliath Groupers were killed at the St. Lucie nuclear power plant in Fort Pierce, Florida.
FCC and NOAA promised improved contingency measures, but the intake canal and the danger remains. We also know there’s targeted catch and release, even when it represents a violation of the ongoing moratorium, plus there is “possession” in the sense that Goliath's are held out of the water to take pictures, which eventually show in social media, in sport fishing magazines, etc.
We don’t know how many of the “released” Goliath's actually survive (after fighting on the line and posing for pictures while drowning). Goliath's have such high levels of methyl mercury that they are deemed unsafe for human consumption.
TODAY: Goliath grouper spawning aggregation re-forming in east Florida thanks to a 27-year fishing ban implemented after reaching commercial extinction in the 1980s. I’m aware these days species must pay forward for their own protection and Goliath Groupers have been doing so quietly and in abundance.
Although the species has not recovered to pre-exploitation levels, enough Goliath Groupers are showing up at a few spawning aggregation sites that their presence, and the SCUBA divers that come to visit them, bring a much-needed lifesaver to small businesses in Florida, between late August and early October, just when transition between the summer and winter seasons will leave these businesses in the doldrums. Here, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, because every individual GoliathGrouper contributes to the underwater spectacle of a spawning aggregation, which is what the scuba divers pay to see.
In this sense, every single GoliathGrouper is precious and has value by itself, and brings added value when forming a spawning aggregation. Florida is now the only place in the world where we can find Goliath Groupers reliably in any significant numbers.
This is an update of my Citizen Science project “Have You Seen This Fish?” to photo-identify individual Goliath Groupers. If you are a scuba diver and encounter a GoliathGrouper, you can still add your photo to this citizen science project.
Grouper Grace is posing with me to participate in the “Have You Seen This Fish?” citizen science project. Here’s a list of the dedicated scuba divers who sent me their GoliathGrouper photos or shared them through Facebook.
Michelle Ardecki-Stewart, Open Bernstein, Edward Becker, John Chap, Emerald Charters, Max Device, Alan C. Began, Stefan Fisher, Tom Hayward, Cheryl Hildesheim, Nicole Heath, Jeff Joel, Steve Arm, Wayne Mac Williams, Tom Off, Phil Ruin, Walker’s Dive Charters, Walt Stairs, Cory Walter, Ana Zangroniz As a diver, you can use your dive time to do science and actively contribute to the conservation of these gentle giants.
Goliath groupers are critically endangered throughout their tropical and subtropical Atlantic Ocean distribution. Diving in Florida will allow you to see Goliath groupers during the most spectacular time of the year: spawning season.
Every year, from mid August to early October, Goliath groupers travel from around the state of Florida to congregate at a few sites along the Florida coastline (from north of Miami to the Jupiter area) for the purpose of breeding. Goliath's remain for several weeks at the spawning aggregation sites checking each other out, and seeking potential mates with an elaborate courtship.
Because knowing how many fish you see at each dive site helps scientists like me to evaluate the health of the population Each color phase has an “assigned sex”, this means, scientists suspect what sex belongs to each color phase, but the groupers are not willing to provide a sample of their eggs or sperm as they pass by the unsuspecting scientific diver.
If you have photos or video of Goliath groupers, and you know WHEN and WHERE you took them consider sharing them with me for the purpose of science.