In Florida, hatchlings join their brethren in safe spaces near coastal mangrove estuaries and spend their first six years of life dining exclusively on fish, crabs, and shrimp before heading out to open waters. The Goliath grouper grows slowly, attaining maturity around age 20-25, which is why it is important to manage fishing of the species; they need the chance to reach adulthood to reproduce in order to create a sustainable fishery.
The Goliath grouper is a key species in Florida waters because their presence is an indicator of health for local coral reefs. This particular species feeds by swallowing their prey whole, creating negative pressure that quickly them to bring in whole invertebrates, fish, and even smaller sharks.
Many grouper, manatees, and turtles were found washed ashore on Southwest Florida beaches during the red tides in 2003 and 2005. The good news is that as of 2006 the Goliath grouper ’s population had improved and was considered to be on a recovery trajectory due to the careful protection by NOAA Fisheries.
It possesses a robust and elongated body, with a wide head in comparison to its small eyes. What’s more, the base of the dorsal fin stands out as being covered with scales and thick skin.
Its yellowish, grayish or olive-toned coloring with small spots help the Atlantic goliathgrouper blend into its environment. The majority of these gigantic fish live in deep waters, near rocky areas with coral and mud.
Their geographic location is, for the most part, the American coast from Florida down to southern Brazil. It’s also worth pointing out that there are also Atlantic Goliath groupers living along the African coast from Senegal to the Congo.
The enormous size of this fish, along with its great gastronomic value, make it a much sought-after catch for fishermen. However, its slow growth and low reproduction rate make it one of the most susceptible species to extinction.
The Atlantic goliathgrouper, whose scientific name is Epimetheus Tamara, is a grouper species characterized by its large dimensions. The Atlantic goliathgrouper goes by several other names, including Jewish and Tamara and many local nicknames.
Historically, its size has made it popular among fishers and merchants to the point that it became the object of recreational competitions. Furthermore, its meat stands out for its nutritional value and renowned taste, similar to that of the common grouper.
The once common Nassau grouper (Epimetheus stratus) and goliathgrouper (E. Tamara) have been so depleted that they are under complete protection from the South Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean. From 1997-2005, our researchers collaborated with Florida State University's Institute for Fishery Resource Ecology (Dr. Chris Koenig and Dr. Felicia Coleman) to monitor the status and recovery of goliathgrouper.
This goliathgrouper research program investigated juvenile and adult Jewish abundance, distribution and migration patterns; their age and growth; and their habitat utilization. With the help of Don Maria we have tagged over 1,000 adult Jewish and have observed aggregations of goliathgrouper in both the Gulf of Mexico and more recently, the South Atlantic.
Posters created by the Center of Marine Conservation help disseminate information about our project and its requirements, highlighting our tagging study and the morphology of goliathgrouper. Given that these groupers were afforded protected status, researchers worked to utilize and develop novel non-lethal techniques to procure and analyze biological samples for life history information.
These casualties, resulting from red tide, gave our biologists a unique opportunity to collect a multitude of biological samples, without having to sacrifice healthy animals. From these decomposing carcasses, biologists were able to record length for use in an age/length relationship, and were able to extract monoliths and remove dorsal spines and rays for comparison of hard parts in age and growth analysis.
Tissue samples were also removed and sent to the Florida Marine Research Institute, so they could evaluate the level of red tide toxin. The sampling trip gave these biologists an opportunity to educate the curious beach goers about red tide and goliathgrouper (a few of which had been misidentified as baby manatees).
Attempts to evaluate the data needed to assess the status of these depleted stocks and develop rebuilding plans present unique challenges. In 2010, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and NOAA Fisheries convened a benchmark goliathgrouper assessment for the continental U.S. population.
This project would not have been possible without ongoing collaboration with researchers from Florida State University, Everglades National Park, and the recreational fishing and SCUBA diving communities. 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. This skilled ambush hunter can be found in shallow reef environments in the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific, where it feeds on crustaceans, rays, fish and even turtles.
This grouper is known to exhibit territorial behavior near its preferred spot on a reef or wreck, and may threaten intruders by shaking its body, opening its mouth wide or even using its swim bladder to make a loud booming noise 8 feet (240 cm) Crustaceans, especially spiny lobsters, as well as turtles, fish and stingrays Atlantic Ocean and eastern Pacific Ocean Shallow water The Goliath grouper reaches a length of 8 feet (240 cm) and the largest published weight is 1003 lbs.
The base of the soft dorsal and anal fins are covered with scales and thick skin. 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.
Reefs are considered healthier if you see one of us swimming around because we help maintain balance in the ecosystem. I use my large mouth to suck in whole fish or invertebrates, then swallow them right away.
Scientists estimate that historical overfishing decreased our numbers by about 80%, and it’s been a long road to recovery. After they’re fertilized, the eggs drift around in the currents until they finally hatch.