Monday, May 07, 2012

Gus the Grouper, Part 1: A Fishy Tale

Part 1 of a series on angling and conservation in Florida focused on the Goliath Grouper. Inspired by Jeremy Wade’s by-catch at Fort Pierce Inlet, which was broadcast on River Monsters, the series looks at many different ways of interpreting this fish and its relationship to human interests. Click here for all posts labeled “gus the grouper.”

goliath grouper florida keys
Photo courtesy of Tiswango's Flickr.

My name is Gus. I’m a very big fish but I wasn’t always so big! When my parents met, they had traveled far from their homes to make babies on a reef. And once they made me, I was just a tiny little blob. I floated alone on the currents of the ocean to an estuary, a very special nursery close to land.

I spent the next eight years of my life growing up in the underwater roots of mangrove trees. Other baby fishes also called this protected place home, but it wasn’t easy being so small a baby fish. I had to fend for myself. Bigger fish, birds with big beaks and alligators weren’t my friends.

florida mangroves
Baby fish grow up in the Florida mangroves. Photo courtesy of Cletch's Flickr.

By the time I was eight years old, I was already pretty hefty and tough. I had outgrown the mangroves and felt like exploring the big, wide world. I set out toward the ocean, determined to find a nice new place to live.

I ended up settling in an inlet, a place where a river meets an ocean. My home was grand, a shady spot under a big castle made from sand by crafty worms. It wasn’t a bad place to live for a young grouper like me!

I’ll admit my life wasn’t particularly exciting. I kept to myself, venturing out from my home every now and then to see what was going on in my neighborhood. I ate smaller fishes, crabs, lobsters and yucky things that live under the sand.

But life wasn’t always boring. I kept getting bigger and more curious about the things in the world around me. Sometimes, these weird creatures that didn’t always live here and didn’t look like fish and flashed lights at me would pay a visit to my castle. They’d blow bubbles that would rise to the strange, airy world up above.

They never bothered me, though. And sometimes, I’d let them tickle my belly if they were kind and gentle.

But sometimes, the very same weird creatures that blew bubbles would take my neighbors away after piercing their bodies with a stick.

One day, I felt an urge to go somewhere. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I knew I just had to go and leave my comfy home for a while. I swam out to the ocean until I found many other groupers just like me!

It was here I spotted the prettiest grouper lady fish I had ever seen.

I tried to get her attention. I danced around her, even changing my colors and yelling a loud BOOM with all my might! Boy, did I really want her to notice me instead of all the other handsome groupers!

We never really touched, but next thing I knew, we had all made grouper babies. And just like me many years ago, a new little blob floated on the currents to an estuary where it would grow up in the safe, watery world of the mangrove roots, learning how to fend for itself.

My romance didn’t last long and I swam back home to my peaceful life.

But once a year, I returned to a reef where I courted another lovely grouper lady fish and made more grouper babies.

Photo courtesy of Charles and Clint's Flickr.

I am now a big, strong grown-up fish and I have many birthdays to look forward to. I just hang out under my shady spot, occasionally taking a swim around the neighborhood. And once a year, I go meet a lady fish grouper.

Those weird creatures that blow bubbles and aren’t fish and flash lights at me come visit my spot from time to time.

Sometimes, those very same weird creatures cast a shadow on the waters above me. I hear a funny noise, a rrrrr followed by a clank-clank. I’m not sure what happens up above in that airy world, but I do know that whenever that shadow, rrrrr and clank-clank happen, some fish make a mad dash to the surface. If I’m hungry, I’ll hang out under that shadow. I’m not a dumb fish. It’s a free lunch.

But even though I’m big and powerful, I never eat more than I need to survive. Us groupers watch our figures, you know.

One day, not long ago, I was just roaming around my neighborhood when I spied a very juicy piece of fish.

And then something extraordinary happened.

No sooner did I chomp on the tasty morsel, I felt an incredible pull in the opposite direction I wanted to swim. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on! It was very strange. The harder I tried to get away, the more difficult it became to let go. Whatever it was, it was dragging me close to the beach. I like the beach, but I’d rather always be underwater.

Next thing I know, one of those weird creatures that aren’t fish was looking at me but this time, it wasn’t blowing bubbles. There was something stuck in my mouth, which it took out right away. There were more of those flashing lights and then just like that, it let me go.

My lip hurt a little as I swam back home, a bit tired and confused. First of all, I didn’t get to eat the fish, so I went to bed without dinner. And then I didn’t understand why it let me go after all that pulling and pushing between us, but I’m glad it did.

That was surely a strange day.

So I am still here calling the inlet my home, hoping to grow into a very old grouper with more stories to tell.

If you see me, say hello and if you catch me, let me go.


The above creative interpretation on the life of a Goliath was crafted from research based on personal phone interviews with several legitimate sources; however, I claim no absolute scientific accuracy.

The fish is called Gus because a source who dives in the Fort Pierce area claims to have recognized the fish caught on River Monsters and had already named it thusly. Stay tuned for more …

The Goliath Grouper is currently a protected species.  Special thanks to scientist and Goliath Grouper researcher Dr. Sarah Frias-Torres at the Ocean Research and Conservation Association in Fort Pierce for her time.

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