By John Lidington.
To everything there is a season…” The Byrds got that from Pete Seeger who got it from Ecclesiastes. But Palm Beach County divers really get it. Sharks come in the winter, then sea turtles in late spring and early summer. Now summer is winding down, so it’s time for something new—goliath groupers.
Starting in August and peaking in September, the number of these groupers at dive sites throughout Palm Beach County swells as they gather to spawn. Typically, goliath groupers prefer to be solitary stay-at-homes. As spawning time approaches, however, they temporarily abandon solo life and gather in groups of 50 or more. That’s an ideal time for divers to get up close and personal with them.
It’s no secret that divers love to swim with big fish, and goliath groupers, which can reach lengths over 8 feet and weights approaching 800 pounds, certainly qualify. Despite their size, goliath groupers prefer to eat lobsters, crabs and other small animals they can suck into their huge mouths and swallow whole. Divers have little to fear from these gentle giants.
While today it still takes some special effort to find a spawning aggregation, not that long ago it was virtually impossible. Overfishing caused such a decline in numbers that spawning aggregations had essentially disappeared in the late 1980s. But in 1990, a complete ban was enacted on harvesting these fish. Since then, their numbers have steadily increased and spawning aggregations have been re-established.
So, what’s the best way to meet up with a goliath grouper? They can be found in the waters off of Palm Beach any time of the year, although you have to know where to look. Local goliath groupers are more frequently found habitating local wrecks, usually in water deeper than 60 feet. To prepare for goliath grouper season, consider refining your dive skills with a Deep Diver or Wreck Diver specialty.
The biggest thrill comes from swimming with masses of goliath groupers. Several spots in Palm Beach County host aggregations with fairly good reliability throughout the fall. According to Shana Phelan, of Pura Vida Divers, the Mizpah, one of a series of wrecks in a dive known as “The Corridor,” and the Spud Barge are two favorite sites for aggregating goliath groupers.
If you’re ready to take the plunge, it’s easy to sign up for a dive with these great fish. To maximize your time with them, diving nitrox is recommended.
Give Pura Vida Divers a call at 561-840-8750. Hope to see you out there among the giants!
Goliath grouper lurk among a ball of baitfish off of Singer Island. Photo by Andrea Whitaker.