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.
That’s why the exceptionally large Goliath grouper (Epinephalus Tamara) is the focus of a novel smart-sensing system that will remotely alert authorities of incoming manned and unmanned underwater vehicles. Goliath grouper are distributed in subtropical environments including both Atlantic and Pacific shorelines of North, Central and South America, as well as western Africa.
In most cases, these reefs are often constructed adjacent to inlets and shipping fairways to ease stakeholder (fishermen, diver) access. To date, there have been no studies that have quantified boom dynamics in response to different stimuli, although such experiments are possible in a controlled environment and in situ.
The researchers will therefore conduct a suite of experiments to isolate these behaviors from fish held in captivity at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium to animals tracked within their natural habitat along Florida’s offshore reefs. “In addition to defense-related applications, the project provides a tremendous opportunity to delve deeper into the behaviors of goliathgrouper, a species that was previously decimated from over harvest but has experienced considerable recovery in Florida waters.
Cherubim and Anemia and the team leverages a naturally dominant and territorial species,” said James M. Sullivan, Ph.D., executive director of Far’s Harbor Branch. At certain times of the year, it can be even more of a treat to dive in the warm and inviting waters off the coast of South Florida.
The Castor wreck is a very popular dive spot in 110 feet of water directly out from Boynton Beach and you may see the mammoth Goliath Groupers guarding the ship as if it was their own. Although their size can sometimes be intimidating, they are calm creatures with a curious demeanor as divers seek to capture each movement that they make on video.
They are mostly found in the tropical waters of the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, the Brazilian coast and the Azores. Their diet consists mostly of crabs, however, they can open and close their mouths so quickly that the change in water pressure gives them the ability to suck in a meal in a matter of moments ranging from stingrays, toad fish, parrot fish and octopuses to young sea turtles and catfish.
From July through September, it is not unusual to see plentiful groups of these gargantuan groupers gathering to reproduce, sometimes as many as 100 spawning in a particular area at one time. They also tend to migrate towards popular shipwrecks such as the Mexican Pride and the Gun smoke which are located in Tampa Bay.
The large groupers mature at a slower rate but have an extremely long life span, some living 37 to 40 years. Since making these fish a prohibited species, the number of Goliath Groupers in Florida waters has increased.
Underwater photographer Sandra Edwards shows a photo of a goliathgrouper nicknamed Wilbur that stays around the M/V Castor wreck off Boynton Beach. She was one of many divers who came to a July 31 Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission meeting at the Santana branch library to oppose the possibility of a limited goliathgrouper harvest.
Fishing for goliathgrouper, formerly known as Jewish, has been closed since 1990 in both state and federal waters after populations were hurt by decades of harvest by anglers and divers armed with spear guns. Populations of the long-lived grouper have “substantially recovered” since the prohibition on harvest took effect 27 years ago, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission says.
Goliath grouper, Epimetheus Tamara, are known to live at least 37 years and can grow to 8 feet in length and up to 800 pounds. The FCC is gathering public comments on the possibility of allowing anglers to harvest a limited number of goliathgrouper.
The FCC’s initial proposal calls for issuing tags that anglers would purchase, limiting the harvest to 100 Goliath per year statewide. To be legal to keep, the groupers would have to be between 47 and 67 inches long, and harvesting would not be allowed during the spawning months, July through September.
If a limited harvest is allowed, the FCC hopes to expand its knowledge of goliathgrouper by gathering carcasses that fisheries biologists could study. Divers adamantly opposed the possibility of a limited goliathgrouper harvest during the FCC’s July 31 workshop at the Santana branch library, noting that gatherings of Goliath during the summer spawning season attract divers from around the world to the waters off Palm Beach County.
Sometimes they will come to you and let you hold them.” Simmons said the spawning months of August and September are the best to find Goliath on wrecks along the coast of Palm Beach County. “But when it’s time for their orgy, they all come.” A favorite local Goliath, nicknamed Wilbur, lives on the M/V Castor wreck off Boynton Beach and has his own Facebook page.
Ed Tenor, executive director of Palm Beach County Reef Rescue, said the Goliath should be left alone. The FCC’s next goliathgrouper workshops in South Florida are scheduled for Oct. 11 in Stuart and Oct. 12 in Davie.
This goliathgrouper was caught near a wreck off Boynton Beach by anglers fishing with Capt. The club meets at 7 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month in the classroom building next to the boat ramps at Harvey E. Over Jr. Park in Boynton Beach.
Coming events Sept. 16: International Coastal Cleanup seeks volunteers to remove trash from waterfront locations. Sept. 23: X Generation 440 Challenge fishing tournament for king fish, dolphin, Yahoo, snapper, cobra, black fin tuna and bonito.
The free, short videos demonstrate how to trim, dock, launch and beach powerboats and include tips on maintenance, such as how to change a propeller. A group of fishermen on a charter boat in Florida were shocked when a 3-foot shark they had just hooked was eaten by a Goliath grouper.
GoliathGrouper Swallows SharkWhile fishing in Marathon on First Love Charters with Capt. Two Japanese men 68 and 76 years old hooked into a huge shark after it beat the second Goliath to the punch.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Goliath grouper is, “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 commission says that harvesting and possessing the Goliath grouper has been prohibited in Florida since 1990, because it is a protected species.
The skeletal structure of large goliathgrouper 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,” the commission says.
“When not feeding or spawning, adult Goliath groupers are generally solitary, sedentary and territorial. Before the Goliath grouper reaches full-size it is preyed upon by barracuda, king mackerel and moray eels, as well as sandbar and hammerhead sharks.
Since the restriction on catching Goliath groupers in 1990, Goliath grouper populations have substantially recovered since the harvest prohibition took effect. There have been increases in abundance in certain areas (e.g., Tampa Bay, Charlotte Harbor and the Ten A Thousand Islands), and the distribution of Goliath grouper populations has extended into areas of its former range throughout Florida, including the Big Bend and Panhandle regions,” the conservation commission says.
Calico crabs make up the majority of their diet, with other invertebrate species and fish filling in the rest. I’ve always believed they went out to deeper water with a more stable temperature.
I’ve met a few divers that tell me they are still in their normal haunts, just lethargic and don’t eat much. My grandson wanted to take a couple of his football teammates out to try and catch a Big Fish.
We managed to catch some large lady fish and put them in the live well. A pretty good start to the year, 2 bites and 2 fish.
Depending on water temperature, fishing starts the first of March. April May and June are the best months of the year, and we catch them through November.
Been out a few times when the weather is decent, plenty of trout, lots of small reds and shook. The sleepyhead is starting to get ‘happy’ around the bridges, rock piles, and around the docks in the canals and rivers.
Been hearing stories of Cobra, lots of’em and some real big ones. Captain Randy Knowles offers trips in Tampa Bay, Florida.