What animal is as large as a refrigerator, spotted and striped, and enjoys dining on spiny lobster? That’s right – The Atlantic goliath grouper! This fascinating giant is next up in our “Fun Fish Friday” series because they are one of our favorite fish here at Sanibel Sea School. Here’s why:
Atlantic goliath grouper are huge. As their name suggests, these fish can reach lengths of 8 feet and weigh up to 800 pounds – that’s about 100 pounds per foot! These hefty fish aren’t afraid to use their size to their advantage either. By contracting the muscles around their swim bladder, they are able to stun their prey with a sonic blast. In addition to lobsters and other crustaceans, they like to chow down on octopus, small sea turtles, and stingrays. Goliath grouper also have 3-5 rows of teeth that aren’t used for chewing, but instead for catching prey and keeping it in their large mouth!
Grouper (and their cousins the sea basses) have a unique characteristic to their family in which they spend part of their life as both male and female. This is called sequential hermaphroditism. When environmental cues are just right, female grouper transition to male, but we aren’t positive when exactly this occurs during development, or why. Once the males and females mature, a massive offshore spawning of over 100 individuals occurs where eggs and sperm are released into the water for fertilization.
Due to its popularity as seafood and as a target for sportfishermen, the Atlantic Goliath Grouper declined rapidly in past years, and is now a federally protected species listed as “Critically Endangered” by the World Conservation Union. It is illegal to harvest this fish and if accidentally caught, it is to be returned quickly and unharmed to the sea. We are optimistic that these strict regulations will bring the population numbers of these outstanding fish back up, so that we can enjoy their beauty for generations to come.