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From the Underwater Lens: Greeting a Goliath Grouper [Gallery]

Words by Dan O’Connor; photos by Armando Jenik

Over winter and sometimes into early spring, divers who frequent the wreck of the Rhone are sometimes fortunate enough to meet a giant of the sea, better known as the goliath grouper—or sometimes just giant grouper or jewfish. Whatever it’s referred to, this mammoth of the sea is a sight to behold, and often offers up quite the surprise when inquisitive divers find them hiding out in one of the wreck’s many stowaway spots. I recently caught up with underwater photographer Armando Jenik, who has recorded numerous goliath grouper visits over the past couple of decades.

See Armando’s most recent dance with a goliath grouper:

Armando first encountered a goliath named Abraham in the early 1990s. Abraham frequented the Rhone year after year around Christmas time. Abraham was average in size—about 400 pounds and six feet in length. However, the fascinating creature has been recorded at lengths of eight feet and as much as 800 pounds. Armando has fond memories of feeding the giant fish lobsters, careful not to get his appendages swallowed by his giant mouth. Giant groupers have two stomachs—one to help break apart the hard shells of crustacean like lobsters and another to digest. When hunting, the slow yet studious creatures use a vibrations sound that numbs its victim and allows them to use their force to suction them into their gargantuan gullets.

After a few meetings with Abraham, Armando would later find out the giant fish was speared and harvested for its sought-after meat. Considered of fine food quality, giant groupers have long been hunted by fishermen. Its inquisitive and generally fearless nature makes it relatively easy prey for spear fishermen. They also tend to spawn in large aggregations, returning like clockwork to the same location, making them particularly vulnerable to mass harvesting. But in 1990, the US put a ban on harvesting, and the Caribbean soon followed in 1993. Today, even though numbers are on the rise, the goliath grouper is recognized as a critically endangered species by the World Conservation Union.

About the Rhone, Bert Kilbride, Armando Jenik and the goliath grouper:

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Goliath grouper sightings at the Rhone date back to days shortly after she sank in 1867. A trio of Irish salvage divers known as the Murphy brothers were among the first to dive and salvage the Rhone, after being hired from a London-based insurance company. In their diaries, the Murphy brothers also mention meeting a giant grouper about the size of Abraham. Goliath groupers rarely live over 40 years of age, but Armando and his dive buddies often think about how it must have been to dive the wreck more than a hundred years ago and encounter one of these similarly awesome creatures in the same habitat. It’s a memory that will live on, and divers near and far look forward to meeting Abraham’s decedents for years to come.

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