You saw the viral video last week of a huge fish gulping down a four-foot shark off the coast of Bonita Springs, Florida, right? Turns out that incident is a fairly common one. (If you missed the vid the first time around, here it is.)
And here’s a similar scene from 2009, uploaded by dwhtyo, from Marathon, Florida. First Love Charters with Captain Lucas took these fish hunters out.
The monster Atlantic goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara) is just a ginormous type of sea bass, one of the largest in the oceans. Found in the reefs of shallow tropical waters, and sometimes estuaries, on both sides of the Atlantic as well as the Caribbean, this fish can reportedly grow about 16 ft (5 m) long and weigh hundreds of pounds. It measures about half as wide in girth as it is long.
For a closer look, check out the Atlantic goliath’s Australian cousin, the gigantic Queensland grouper, as seen here by Jeremy Wade and the River Monsters film crew in a recording passed on by Animal Planet.
Atlantic goliath grouper were once considered fine food and overfished. The population declined rapidly, and the grouper is now a critically endangered species protected from harvest. (Can you imagine throwing it back in? Anybody catching one must do so.) The big fellas come in different shades from dull green, grey, or dark yellow to brown, with small dark spots on the head, body, and rounded fins. The eyes are so tiny they can pass for two spots. Juveniles are lighter in color and usually banded.
And yes, Atlantic goliath grouper sport some useful teeth—several rows of small mandibular choppers and some little pharyngeal teeth for good measure. They’ll chase just about anything smaller than they are. As well as sharks, groupers enjoy barracuda, other fish, crustaceans, octopi, and young sea turtles.
This one chowed down on a bonita off Stuart, Florida, with Captain Ben Chancey of Chew On This Charters:
Grouper also have a fondness for divers:
In July, this one went for a piece of diver and then stole a lesser amberjack off the diver’s spear in about 80 feet (25m) of water off Jupiter, Florida.
But maybe the most interesting fact about groupers is that they are almost certainly sequential protogynous hermaphrodites. In other words, groupers are born with both female and male gonads. They start out female, and as they age (based on either internal or external triggers), they shift sex to become male. This pattern also exists in other reef fish: wrasses (one of the largest families of coral reef fish), emperors (or bream), porgies, parrotfish, angelfish, gobies, and possibly more. Male groupers retain and even increase their fecundity with age, while it diminishes in the other sex. What that says about guys and chasing booty!