• July 7, 2014

David and the Little Goliath Grouper

Jennifer Hayes

Florida is a convention destination, but its best, most wildly interesting convention is hidden beneath the surface just offshore. Within sight of the high-rise condos, shopping malls, and Denny’s restaurants is an immense biological pulse of life. Here, scores of 600-pound Atlantic goliath groupers leave their normally solitary existence to mate and spawn on the shipwrecks, ledges, and structures off of Jupiter, West Palm Beach, and Boynton Beach—as well as off the west coast of Florida—from mid-August into October.

These slow-growing, docile giants spend the first five years of their lives in Florida’s mangroves and shallow waters, vulnerable to unexpected cold weather episodes. Protected from harvest since 1990, the goliaths are slowly rebuilding their numbers, fighting their way back from the brink of oblivion. As fisherman lobby to re-open the fishery, they are placed at the center of a contentious battle between conservation and harvest.

Diving with these creatures is a world-class experience.

Watch a video of David swimming with goliath groupers

My partner, Jennifer Hayes, and I set up a remote camera on the seabed to capture the behavior of these lumbering giants. We swam our cameras and a large mesh gear bag one hundred feet down to the sand in front of the bow of the MV Castor, an artificial reef shipwreck near Boynton Beach. A small goliath (weighing a mere 150 pounds) swam down from the bow of the wreck and hovered closely as we extracted the gear from the yellow bag. The little giant inspected each piece slowly and carefully as I set it down in the sand. The goliath was a shadow on my shoulder, following my every move and looking on as I set up the tripod.

David Doubilet sets up a remote camera while a "little" goliath grouper looks on.

I set the camera timer to take a picture every 5 seconds over the next few hours to capture goliath behavior. I adjusted angle and focus and started the time lapse. The “CLICK – CLICK – CLICK – CLICK” of the camera shutter was loud across the sand. The little goliath, detecting the noise, swam to the camera and rolled side to side as it listened, mesmerized by the sound and its reflection in the glass dome. The little guy blocked the view of the camera but we were certain he would swim away to do other “goliath” things.

An Atlantic goliath grouper inspects a remote camera off the coast of Florida.

When we returned to the remote setup 3 hours later, the little goliath was exactly where we left him, inches from the camera, staring into the lens. I had just captured 2,160 identical pictures of one vain and curious goliath.

Jennifer Hayes and David Doubilet’s photographs of goliath groupers are featured in the July issue of National Geographic.

Related Story: David Doubilet speaks about what captivates him about underwater photography

There are 23 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. melissa
    October 8, 2014

    How did the Goliath got its name?

  2. Danie Cape Town
    July 14, 2014

    Thanks for the wonderful photo’s. Keep up your wonderful work. John, I assume you are comparing your giant grouper to a Volkswagen Beetle? Any idea what it would have weighed? What is the biggest trooper ever recorded. Do they mostly live in the depth of he oceans? Will they attack humans?

  3. Sung Yun Um
    July 13, 2014

    It’d so be amazing to swim along these guys..

  4. efrain
    July 13, 2014

    Though iam a proudly Vegan person…i recoment to people first stop watching ,reading or listening to anything that could make you loose your assurance that the world is learning of past mistakes…in other
    words.. if you want to change and improved the world you should began with change and improve yourself !!

  5. Christos
    July 12, 2014

    Robert, you really need to wake up and smell the daisies. It’s people thinking like you that have caused such an ordeal to the seas. You might want to go out I to sea and see for yourself what we have done to this planet. Nature has a way of healing itself, so these fish have done nothing more to their ecosystem other than what they are meant to. They live, they eat, they breed, they produce and die. WE are supposed to do the same, but we also DESTROY.

  6. Eyejewels
    July 12, 2014

    Caisa Leeb-Lundberg – my 50th birthday present to myself was learning to dive – you are never too old!

  7. Jayne
    July 12, 2014

    That’s brilliant, I would love to just sit and watch sea life for hours.

  8. martymart
    July 12, 2014

    Ugh. Troy Armstrong just has to turn this amazing article into a treaty on the “poor victimized planet”

  9. michael
    July 12, 2014

    @Robert Burkart, And what humans do with overfishing is no problem what so ever?.

    I have seen photographs of barren reefs from trawling, desolate broken and lifeless.
    fishermen are more to blame than the fish.

  10. meriquejmphoto
    July 12, 2014

    je suis plongeur+apnéiste +photographe .depuis une 30 aine d’année ,et je reste toujours subjugué par les beautés que nous offre la nature!en plongée bien sure !mais dans bien d’autres domaines , insoupçonnable pour bien des gens -comme dans le domaine de la chirurgie et du corps humain vu de l’intérieur par exemple!(je fais des photos de chirurgie depuis 2006.j’ai eu de plus eu la chance en plongée à Port- Cros (var) de faire cette rencontre avec ces placides individus ,que sont les mérous!!la même sensation et les même émotions que vous décrivez! alors chapeau bas pour l’ensemble de vos travaux photos merci Monsieur
    Doubilet! cordialement!jmphoto Limoges.France

  11. Barbara Dyson
    July 12, 2014

    This goes to show that creatures no matter where they are are important to their surroundings, despite the call for the resumption of their being caught for consumption!
    I am impressed that the Goliath is so curious and has obviously the cognitive ability to check out what a human is brining into its environment!

  12. Clete Presnell
    July 12, 2014

    The over fishing of these in the past, nearly caused their extinctiion Robert. Because man can be greedy, and will take something until there is nothing left without a thought to whether or not it was wise to do so. Only man can put an ecosystem out of balance.

  13. Prasanna Seshadri
    July 12, 2014

    Interesting piece of Information presented in simple words that anybody can appreciate.

  14. Sierge
    July 12, 2014

    I’d love to see the timelapse of that goliath’s time with the camera though

  15. mustafa
    July 12, 2014

    vary nic

  16. Troy Armstrong
    July 12, 2014

    Just another example of how the other creatures are in harmony with this planet except for us. Thank you for sharing this underwater world with us!

  17. John M
    July 10, 2014

    I remember snorkeling on a reef of the coast of Cuba and encountering a giant grouper bigger then a Volkswagen, it came out of a hole in the reef to check me out and just watched me as I watched it.

  18. rox
    July 8, 2014

    Adorable !!!
    I can picture the Goliath turning its head from side to side? The way my dog does when I speak to him and hes trying to understand what im saying

  19. Robert Burkart
    July 7, 2014

    The over protection of these fish has done more to cause the depletion of other reef fish than any other reason. They’re carnivorous and eat their weight in other fish and crustations every 2 to3 days

  20. Argelia Ginarte
    July 7, 2014

    I believe that also fish have cognitive thoughts. It is a shame that we like to eat them.

  21. Caisa Leeb-Lundberg
    July 7, 2014

    At 50, I still dream of being a guest in the deep. David Doubilet, you make me keep dreaming.

  22. Roger Marin
    July 7, 2014

    Nice little story. Did any other Goliath also follow?

  23. chunzi wu
    July 7, 2014

    Omg, the most curious little Goliath ever!! I love this so much!!

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