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article imageDivers take a plunge with an ocean giant: the Goliath grouper

By Megan Hamilton     Jul 10, 2014 in Environment
Miami - At first glance, an adult goliath grouper can appear intimidating. 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.
Fear not. As the video shows, these big bruisers are generally placid and move slowly, Arkive reports. These massive fish are some of the largest members of the sea bass family and are often rather solitary creatures, although they do occur in aggregations of 50 or move individuals from time to time. When spawning, they may gather in groups of 100 or more, Arkive reports.
In many ways, the huge reefs where the goliath grouper is found are like cities, with masses of corals that serve as apartment complexes for the citizens — colorful schools of fish, crustaceans, and an astonishing diversity of other creatures. Goliath groupers are part of this world, and as the video notes, to see one of these amazing fish is to love them.
Lots of humans do love them — on the menu, and the placid nature of the goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara) gets the big fish in serious trouble. This is because they aren't particularly afraid of divers, and as such, they are extremely easy to catch. Due to excessive spearfishing and hook-and-line fishing, the goliath grouper became commerically extinct in the 1980s, according to The Ocean Research and Conservation Association (ORCA). When a species is considered commercially extinct it means that the species is too rare to catch profitably, according to PBS Empty Oceans.
They are also easy to find because they tend to stay in the same areas — juveniles hang out in mangroves, while adults prefer reefs, ORCA reports.
In fact, these fish have been so over-hunted that the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List reports that they are critically endangered. 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.
Fortunately, the goliath grouper fishery has been closed to harvest throughout the southeast region of the United States, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.
ORCA notes that people are beginning to realize that this remarkable fish is more valuable alive than dead, especially in Florida, where tourists come from all over the U.S. and the rest of the world in order to scuba dive with these big fish. This is an excellent source of tourist dollars for Florida — diving businesses prosper. Each diver pays upwards of $100 apiece for a two-tank dive, and associated businesses also benefit. After all, tourists need to eat, sleep, and dive.
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 parrotfish make up a good part of their diet, Arkive reports. They also like to feed on octopus and young sea turtles. Even though these guys have teeth, they glurp their prey in and swallow it whole. And, as juveniles, they are prey for for barracuda, king mackerel, moray eels, sandbar sharks and hammerhead sharks. Once it is fully grown, a goliath grouper's only predators are humans and large sharks.
Swimming gently at the bottom of its blue world, the Atlantic goliath grouper is a sight to behold. May they continue on this way for generations to come.
More about Goliath grouper, Grouper, arkive, Ocean researche and conservation association, Orca
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