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.
The giant of the grouper family, the Goliath (formerly called Jewish) has brown or yellow mottling with small black spots on the head and fins, a large mouth with jawbones that extend well past its small eyes, and a rounded tail. The skeletal structure of large Goliath grouper cannot adequately support their weight out of the water without some type of damage.
If a large Goliath is brought on-board a vessel or out of the water, it is likely to sustain some form of internal injury and therefore be considered harvested. Goliath grouper populations declined throughout their range during the 1970s and 1980s due to increased fishing pressure from commercial and recreational fishers and divers.
At their July 2014 meeting in Key Largo, this committee reviewed the most up-to-date scientific information on goliathgrouper and recommended a new stock assessment for this species. As a result, the most recent stock assessment, conducted by the FCC was completed in June 2016 (Sedan 47).
The stock assessment indicates abundance in south Florida has greatly increased since the fishery closed in 1990. However, in the final step of the review process, the assessment was rejected by an independent panel of scientists for use in federal management due to a lack of reliable indicators of abundance outside south Florida.
Goliath are also susceptible to large scale mortality events such as cold temperatures and red tide blooms. When not feeding or spawning, adult Goliath groupers are generally solitary, sedentary and territorial.
Before the goliathgrouper reaches full-size it is preyed upon by barracuda, king mackerel and moray eels, as well as sandbar and hammerhead sharks. Calico crabs make up the majority of their diet, with other invertebrate species and fish filling in the rest.
Reproductive maturity first occurs in fish 5 or 6 years of age (about 36 inches in length) due to their slow growth rate. Males mature at a smaller size (about 42 inches) and slightly younger age than females.
These groups occur at consistent sites such as wrecks, rock ledges and isolated patch reefs during July, August and September. Studies have shown fish may move up to 62 miles (100 km) from inshore reefs to these spawning sites.
In southwest Florida, presumed courtship behavior has been observed during the full moons in August and September. Lurking in the deepest recesses of inshore waters is one of the most powerful and challenging species sought by anglers.
With nearly no natural predators once adulthood is reached and with a history of even stalking human swimmers on occasion, this monster of the deep is truly a worthy adversary for any fisherman. Goliath Groupers feed primarily on crustaceans such as spiny lobsters, shrimp, and crabs, as well as stingrays, octopus, and even young sea turtles, all of which it can easily catch and devour with its three to five rows of teeth.
Popular locations to fish for GoliathGrouper include bridges and structure when angling inshore, and sunken wrecks and reefs offshore. The easily approachable nature of the grouper makes it a great fish for spear fishermen, though this has reduced its population in areas accessible to divers.
It is a full contact sport that can leave even the strongest and fittest of anglers exhausted only minutes into the fight. However, if you’re truly dedicated to muscling one of these mammoths to the boat, and you can endure the long and demanding battle of catching one, you’ll be rewarded with a prize like no other.
Be sure to take lots of pictures, because you’ll definitely want proof to back up your story when regaling your jealous friends with your tale of triumph. The giant GoliathGrouper is arguably the most dramatic member of the Grouper family, and large mature specimens are kings of the reef, with no natural predators.
The GoliathGrouper is the largest member of the sea bass family found in the western Atlantic, reaching weights of 800 lbs. Its body is elongated but robust, with the widest point measuring more than half the fish’s total length.
Goliath's are generally brownish yellow, gray, or olive-colored, with small dark spots on head, body, and fins. GoliathGrouper Habitat and Behavior Goliath Groupers range the shallow, inshore tropical waters of the western Atlantic Ocean from Florida through the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, and south along nearly the entire Brazilian coastline.
Goliath Groupers typically inhabit natural and artificial reefs in water depths of 16 to 160 feet. They prefer areas that have rock, coral, and mud bottoms along with high-relief features such as ledges, caves, and holes that can provide refuge.
The Goliath is one of the few groupers that inhabit brackish waters, with juveniles commonly found around mangroves and in estuaries, especially near oyster bars. Goliath Groupers are solitary fish and adults are territorial near their areas of refuge, displaying an open mouth and quivering body to intruders and sometimes producing an audible rumbling sound via muscular contractions of the swim bladder.
Goliath Groupers are ambush feeders that prey mostly on crustaceans such as spiny lobsters, shrimps, and crabs. The difference with the Goliath is that specialized ultra-heavy tackle will be needed if there is to be any chance of bringing a fish boat side.
Southern stingrays, a green moray eel, and two sea turtles also share this exciting exhibit. Sand tiger sharks are found in the shallow, coastal tropical waters of all oceans except the central and eastern Pacific.
Adult sharks are 4-8 feet long, have hunch backs, narrow snouts, and a golden-brown sheen. Diet This nocturnal hunter feeds on bony fish, small sharks and rays, octopus, and large crustaceans.
Unique Adaptations Sand tiger sharks are often found in groups of a few dozen, hovering in caves or near reefs or shipwrecks. Sand tigers migrate, coming toward shore during the summer and moving southward or to deeper waters in the winter.
Reproduction Female sand tiger sharks are viviparous (producing living young from eggs that hatch within the body). Southern stingrays inhabit temperate waters of bays and estuaries from New Jersey to Brazil, as well as the Gulf of Mexico.
Diet Rays feed on a wide variety of bottom organisms, such as crustaceans (shrimp and crab), mollusks (snails and shellfish), and worms. They crush their food with strong plates in their mouths and expel sand through their spiracles (just behind their eyes).
Development is viviparous (pups hatch from their egg capsules while inside the mother’s uterus and are born soon after). In the early spring and summer, females may leave the water and return to their home beach to nest.
Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are carnivores, feeding on crabs, mollusks, jellyfish, mussels, and fish. Unique Adaptations Streamlined bodies and flippers make these large animals powerful swimmers and divers-some species routinely diving to depths greater than 1,000 feet and staying underwater for several hours.
Unlike their freshwater relatives, sea turtles have a special gland that rids their bodies of excess salts. These events are called an “arrived” and take place on a small strip of beach at Ranch Nero, Mexico.
Their populations have declined due to commercial harvest of turtle meat, eggs, skins for leather, and shells for ornaments and jewelry. They die from ingesting marine debris, such as plastic bags, or get caught in nets as by catch and drown.
Moray eels are found in tropical reefs and shallows from New Jersey to Brazil, including Bermuda and the Gulf of Mexico. They feed on fish and crustaceans, especially crabs, and use their long, slender bodies to enter holes and crevices in search of hidden prey.
Despite warning predators with a large open mouth and sharp teeth, morays are not aggressive and do not usually bite unless provoked. Moray eels begin adult life as males, then later change to females (sex reversal).
Cobra can be found on the western coast of the Atlantic from Massachusetts to Argentina, often in open waters. They frequently follow large animals like sea turtles, sharks, and rays to scavenge leftovers.
They live in the tropical and temperate waters of the Atlantic Ocean, along the eastern coast of the U.S. and south to Brazil and Uruguay. Jacks are typically light, usually silver with red pigmentation which disappears in dark ocean water.
Diet These strong-swimming carnivores rely on speed and strength to catch their prey, which includes small fish, cope pods, and other ocean animals. Unique Adaptations Jacks are often found swimming with sharks, but when roaming the open sea they school as a defense mechanism.
Jacks can also be seen hitching a free ride in the bow wake of their predatory “companions.” Juveniles hide among jellyfish, debris, plants, etc, and have a deeper and sleeker appearance then the adults. They prefer the sheltered habitats of coral reefs, and especially shady areas such as shipwrecks, rock ledges, and caves.
Atlantic goliathgrouper have a broad, flat head and mouth, and can grow up to 8 feet long and weigh over 700 pounds. These hunters are not built for speed over long distances and prefer to ambush prey, rather than pursue it in open water.
The diet of these large predators consists mainly of crab, lobster, fish, octopus, and young sea turtles. Habits and Adaptations Atlantic Goliath groupers are often spotted or dark, allowing them to camouflage with their surroundings.
Small groupers may be preyed upon by barracuda, king mackerel, moray eels, and sharks. When threatened, an Atlantic goliathgrouper will defend its territory with aggressive body language and a distinctly audible rumbling sound.
Usually brown, with some yellow on the underside, these stocky, slow swimming fishes have a large head and a “box-shaped” body. Diet Porcupine fish use their strong beaks to crush coral polyps, mollusks, crustaceans, crabs, and sea urchins.
Unique Adaptations Puffers hide in coral and as their name implies, can puff up two to three times their normal size by sucking air or water into a special chamber in their abdomen. Puffers employ a number of defenses to avoid getting eaten: they are covered with sharp spines, their internal organs contain an extremely toxic nerve poison, and when cornered they can bury themselves in the sand.
This important food fish can be found in warm coastal waters, from Massachusetts to Brazil, including Bermuda and the Gulf of Mexico. They have a triangular-shaped head and a notched tail, and are capable of inflicting injuries to unsuspecting fishermen with their well-developed teeth.
Tarpon are found in tropical and temperate waters along the eastern Atlantic coasts of North and South America. Unique Adaptations When swimming in oxygen-poor water, tarpons can gulp air from the surface using special lung-like bladders.
Initially the young head to shallow water where they become an intricate part of the plankton that drifts with ocean currents far from shore. Trigger fish usually spend a large portion of their lives near a coral reef-inhabiting areas in coastal waters from New York to Brazil.
Small eyes set high on a large, angular head and jaw give them a “bucktoothed” appearance. Diet Trigger fish have powerful jaws and teeth that allow them to easily crush hard-shelled prey like crustaceans, mollusks, coral, and sea urchins.
The Queen trigger fish will blow mouthfuls of water at sea urchins to flip them over and expose their softer underparts. Groupers are generally a friendly species and can be found patrolling artificial and coral reefs alike, primarily in shallow tropical waters.
Goliath groupers navigate to an annual spawning for breeding, the season and location varies depending on the population. 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. Photo courtesy Oaths large, solitary fish will defend its territory when threatened, with aggressive body language and a rumbling sound it makes with its swim bladder.
Its large, thick, elongated body can grow to over 8 feet long (and up to 800 pounds), from rounded snout and small eyes, to short, fan-like tail fin. Usually it is a mottled yellow-brown to gray with darker bard and spots, ideal for blending in to their rocky coral and muddy inshore habitat.
Other names are Baden (Portuguese), campus (Portuguese), hernia gig ante (Italian), China (Spanish), group (Portuguese), gran morgue (Iranian), guava (Spanish), data (Japanese), harbor (Norwegian), havsabborre (Swedish), Tamara Vienna (Polish), Judaism (Norwegian), hero guava (Spanish), hero (French), orphan (Turkish), raitameriahven (Finnish), Sophos (Greek), scarring (Italian), tip (Palikir), Atari (Icelandic), and zackenbarsch (German). A 450 pound goliathgrouper caught by Buddy Junks at the Big Indian Rocks Fishing Pier, Florida (1976).
Photo courtesy Kenneth Krzysztof historical importance to commercial fisheries, the goliathgrouper has also long been prized by recreational and sport fishers. Spear fishers find this fish easy to approach; hence in locations accessible to divers their numbers have declined.
The large size, slow growth, low reproductive rate, and spawning behavior have made the goliathgrouper especially susceptible to overfishing. The goliathgrouper is totally protected from harvest and is recognized as a “Critically Endangered” species by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
Furthermore, the IUCN concludes that the species has been “observed, estimated, inferred or suspected” of a reduction of at least 80% over the last 10 years or three generations. Historical exploitation of goliathgrouper annual spawning aggregation sites greatly reduced the number of reproductive adults.
Occurring in shallow, inshore waters to depths of 150 feet (46 m), the goliathgrouper prefers areas of rock, coral, and mud bottoms. It is territorial near areas of refuge such as caves, wrecks, and ledges, displaying an open mouth and quivering body to intruders.
Additional warning may be delivered in the form of the goliathgrouper ’s ability to produce a distinctly audible rumbling sound generated by the muscular contraction of the swim bladder. Photo courtesy NOAA Distinctive Features Goliath grouper are the largest members of the sea bass family in the Atlantic Ocean.
Coloration This fish is generally brownish yellow, gray, or olive with small dark spots on head, body, and fins. The presence of a number of short weakly developed canine teeth is useful in distinguishing this species from other North Atlantic groupers.
Photo © Don Maria Size, Age, and Growth The goliathgrouper is the largest grouper in the western Atlantic. However, this specimen was sampled from a population of individuals depressed by fishing pressure and it is projected that goliathgrouper may live much longer, perhaps as much as 50 years.
Photo © Don Maria Food Habits Goliath grouper feed largely on crustaceans (in particular spiny lobsters, shrimps and crabs), fishes (including stingrays and parrot fishes), octopus, and young sea turtles. However, the significance of this finding is of diminished value when one considers that transitional individuals are known to be rare amongst confirmed species of protogynous hermaphrodites, such as the red grouper (Epimetheus Mario) and gag (Mycteroperca microbes).
Photo courtesy National Marine Fisheries Service In support of the notion that the species is a protogynous hermaphrodite is the fact that the largest Goliath groupers are invariably male. Spawning occurs during the summer months of July, August, and September throughout the goliathgrouper ’s range and is strongly influenced by the lunar cycle. Ship wrecks, rock ledges, and isolated patch reefs are preferred spawning habitat.
In the 1980s these aggregations reached a low of less than 10 individuals per site as fishing pressure greatly impacted this species. Since receiving legislative protection the spawning aggregations of goliathgrouper have risen to 20-40 individuals per location.
These pelagic larvae transform into benthic juveniles at lengths of one inch (2.5 cm), around 25 or 26 days after hatching. In an 1884 work, “The fishes of the Florida Keys,” David Starr Jordan proposed the inclusion of the goliathgrouper in Epimetheus (Bloch 1793) and this combination remains in use today.
Of incidental note is the fact that various authors have incorrectly spelled the specific epithet “Tamara” as “tiara.” The genus name comes from the Greek epinephelos translated as cloudy. A number of authors treat the name Promiscuous Tamara as valid taxonomy for the goliathgrouper.
The giant grouper is the largest of all reef-dwelling bony fish, growing up to 8.9 feet (2.7 m) in length and weighing up to 660 pounds (300 kg). A highly adapted ambush predator, the giant grouper will hide in holes, crevices or reef overhangs, and remain nearly motionless while waiting for unsuspecting prey to come close enough to strike.
Its eyes see well in the dark, and can rotate, allowing the grouper to spot approaching prey without even moving its head. When the grouper opens its large mouth, it creates a powerful suction and draws in its target, which it swallows whole.
Has a very large mouth that expands and protrudes to create a strong suction to draw in prey. The giant grouper ’s eyes function effectively in dim light, which gives it an advantage over its prey during dawn and dusk feeding times.
Fishermen generally target larger individuals, meaning that, frequently, too many breeding specimens are removed from a population to it to sustain itself. Consists of fish, sharks, juvenile sea turtles and crustaceans, including spiny lobster and mud crabs.
Ambush predator that lies in wait while hiding in holes, crevices and reef overhangs. Found in tropical shallow reefs, caves, wrecks and estuaries commonly to 164 feet (50 m) deep.
Protogynous hermaphrodite; starts out life as female and can later change gender to become male. 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.
Forty percent of goliathgrouper caught in Belize had mercury levels exceeding the U. S.-recommended levels for human consumption. 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.