One Big Fish: Goliath Grouper

Many visitors want to know where they can find the really big fish. Well, of course there are the tarpon and permits in the Giant Ocean Tank. But any discussion of really big fish at the Aquarium would be entirely incomplete with mentioning the goliath grouper. It's called goliath, after all!

A goliath grouper on exhibit in the Aquarium's Blue Hole exhibit

The goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara) is one of 159 species of groupers living near coral reefs, rocky outcrops and even shipwrecks throughout the tropics. This large species can be found relatively close to home, living along the coast of Florida, through the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the eastern part of the Atlantic. While many species can reach a few feet in length, the goliath grouper stays true to its name, growing over 8 feet long and 800 pounds during its 40 year lifespan. This makes it the largest grouper in the Atlantic!

Goliath grouper, photo: Albert kok via Wikimedia Commons

Though the Aquarium’s groupers are not nearly 800 pounds, they are still pretty impressive to look at. They seem even bigger once you see them in their Thinking Gallery home. Our goliath groupers can be found in the Blue Hole exhibit, located on the second floor of the Aquarium. Blue holes are cave formations that were once above water but were submerged over time. Though blue holes can be small and cramped, these solitary groupers love to live in these cozy, underwater caves and crevices. Known to be thigmotactic, groupers like to be in contact with a surface or an object around them and the tight quarters of the blue hole allows them to be in touch with the walls or other structures of the underwater caves.

Scuba diver with a goliath grouper at Dry Tortugas National Park, photo via Wikimedia Commons

In addition to being cozy, blue holes are a great spot to sit and ambush prey like spiny lobsters, shrimp, fish, octopus and young sea turtles. Since groupers don’t move around much, these holes provide a great home range where groupers spend most of their time, even protecting their territory by making an audible rumbling sound to warn other animals to keep away.

Our researchers have spotted goliath groupers in the wild in Belize! Did you know they can change from female to male during the course of their lifetime? Have you watched a neon goby clean their skin and mouth? Keep reading about these behemoths of the oceans and other residents of the Aquarium and our blue planet.

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