04 July 2005

Big grouper grabs diver on Florida Keys reef

No doubt, sharks are the most notorious for latching onto underwater divers. On occasions, barracudas have been known to do the same.

But this fish-bites-man story centers around one of the more docile creatures of the deep -- the slow-moving and inquisitive Goliath grouper, for years known as the jewfish or giant grouper.

Bob Charles, a Florida Keys diver from Cudjoe Key, claims to have the bruises and four stitches in a lip following an "attack" by an estimated 100-pound Goliath grouper.

"It was just so fast," Charles told the Keynoter, a Florida Keys newspaper. "I didn't realize my head was in his mouth until I was on the way to the hospital, and I saw the blood on the top of my head."

Charles said he was diving with a friend and they were spearfishing for snapper in about 30 feet of water. The grouper continued to follow him, sometimes only a few feet away.

"He was making this thudding noise they do, then all of a sudden he turned and hit me," Charles was quoted as saying.

The force ripped away some of Charles' dive gear, but he managed to surface and swim to his boat.

Many of the popular Florida Keys dive sites, where divers use legal means for spearing snapper, grouper, hogfish and other species, are home to at least one resident Goliath grouper.

Some of the big grouper relate the divers to potential handouts, and on more than one occasion a grouper has tried to grab a speared fish from the grasp of a diver. If an injured fish manages to get away, it often becomes easy pickings for the resident grouper.

Goliath grouper grow to 400 and 500 pounds. Because of their enormous strength and size, they have been known to pose a threat to divers.

There's no question that since the species was placed on the protected list in 1990, its numbers have grown rapidly. Most sizable reefs and almost all wrecks have grouper as regular residents.

Charles admitted he was lucky because his encounter was with a relatively small grouper.

He said the grouper might have killed him if it was larger.

Charles' story has been the talk around dive and tackle shops in the Keys.

Bob Berger, owner of Bonefish Bob's tackle shop in Islamorada, said the report reminded him of a true story 35 years ago, in the waters offshore Maine, when a monkfish killed a diver.

"My son-in-law was giving diving lessons to four or five guys near the Nubble Light House offshore York," said Berger, a native of Maine. "They were in only 20 feet of water.

"All of a sudden a monkfish came out of nowhere and grabbed one of the divers by the throat and there was nothing the others could do. The fish killed the guy,"

The monkfish has a large gaping mouth, similar to a grouper, and large teeth.

"Some people call it the wolf fish for obvious reasons," Berger said.

Source: www.floridatoday.com


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