Diving with the World's Largest Groupers

By: Terry Gibson

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On Saturday, the day after the August blue moon, I tagged along on a research mission aboard the vessel, Dykoke, with Florida State University's Dr. Chris Koenig, and a crew of eager young scientists seeking to answer important questions about goliath groupers. The species spawns around the full and new moons of August and September, in aggregations numbering on the order of 150 fish on their favorite wrecks. Imagine diving with more than 100 fish that  range between 100 and 700 pounds!

Following many years of overfishing, this long-lived species has been protected from harvest for about 20 years, and seems to be recovering off southeast and southwest Florida. Florida  waters are about the only place left in the world where these magnificent animals haven't been virtually eradicated.

Divers, the best places to see goliath groupers include the wrecks off Southeast Florida, wrecks in the Keys, and wrecks and other artificial habitats off St. Petersburg and Sarasota. But you're clearest water and greatest concentrations of goliaths is off Palm Beach County.

These scientists use lasers to measure the fish underwater. So our first order of business was to dive on one of the spawning aggregation sites off Jupiter. They were a talkative bunch--the groupers I mean--making these deep, booming sounds as we swam through the huge schools of, well, "goliath" fish. It's one of the world's most amazing wildlife watching experiences. Underwater photographers--make sure you bring a wide-angle lens to capture these giants.

Afterwards, we caught 26 specimens, tagged them, and gathered information on their ages and stomach contents. I never thought I'd have an appendage all the way down a grouper's throat!

The best visibility and largest aggregations are in the summer months, through September. But goliath groupers inhabitat the reefs and wrecks year-round. It's almost a sure bet you'll see one. Come see a "huge" reason why the world's foremost marine biologists as well as thousands of divers from the world over are flocking to Florida.

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