Jupiter’s Goliath Grouper Congregation

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By Pat Ford

It starts around the new moon in August.  Massive goliath groupers mass together around several wrecks off Jupiter Inlet to spawn and the result is amazing dive trips.  This year my September trips to Alaska were canceled due to Covid 19 so I finally had the chance to see the goliath spawn in person.  Evidently the females move onto the wrecks and the smaller males follow.  Also in attendance are thousands of cigar minnows and small jacks, all hoping to gobble up the eggs as soon as they are laid.  The actual spawn happens in the evenings and is rarely witnesses by divers.  Nevertheless on my last dive in the afternoon of the last of the 4 days that I went with Jupiter Dive Center, I actually watched a goliath drop her eggs.

I was on a site known as Warrior Reef which consists of a bunch of pillars.  Current is always a problem on these wrecks and once you pass a point, you’re not likely to be able to get back to it without burning half a tank of air.  I had found myself a pilar with a huge goliath hovering next to it.  I crept up and grabbed onto the pilar and surprisingly the goliath never moved, allowing me to take all the photos I wanted.  I stayed next to this critter for probably 10 minutes when I made out a large shadowy blob moving towards us.  Visibility was only around 40 feet but, as it came closer, I realized that it was a big goliath with hundreds of lit up yellow jacks and cigar minnows hovering around it.  That goliath had to be dropping eggs to create the feeding frenzy around it.  I snapped a bunch of photos and as the dust cleared I saw another goliath following the same path, probably fertilizing what was left of the eggs….what an amazing sight

The goliath spawn dive trips are actually pretty tough.  Jupiter Dive Center has been running them for years and they are all drift dives on Nitrox.  The boat will put you in position up current of the wreck and the dive master will lead everyone down.  It’s very important to follow the dive master to the wreck.  If you come in wide the current will sweep you right by the wreck and you’ll have no choice but to surface and get back on the boat to be dumped again.

Once you get near the wreck, it’s not difficult to spot the goliaths.  Sometimes there will be over 50 on one wreck, all willing to pose for photos.  It’s a great experience, but the goliaths disburse around mid September.  I’ll definitely be back next year.

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