The goliath grouper, true to its name, is an extremely large fish. It lives in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in the tropical waters off North and South America and Africa. Probably the easiest way to recognize this fish is their large size, which we will talk more about later. Very few saltwater fish other than sharks are this large. There are a couple bony fish, or non-sharks, that are about the same size, but they have very different body shapes.
These animals can be several different dull colors. They can be green, yellow, brown, or grey, but they are never brightly colored. They will have small dark spots all over their body. Smaller individuals will have a few faint vertical bars on their sides, but the larger ones don’t have these.
Goliath groupers, which are actually part of the sea bass family, are predatory fish. Like most large predatory fish, they have multiple rows of teeth. This species has as many as five rows of teeth on the lower jaw!
Size and growth
As you can tell by their name, goliath groupers are giants. The average adult is about 4 feet (1.2 m) long, but some are much longer. The largest goliath groupers ever found have been eight feet (2.5 m) or more in length!
As you probably expect from an animal this large, goliath groupers are quite heavy. The largest one ever caught with a hook and line weighed 680 pounds (309 kg). The largest ones can weigh 800 pounds (363 kg) or more!
These fish are rather slow growers, by fish standards at least. After their first six years, they grow about four inches (10 cm) per year. By age 15, they are only growing about 1.2 inches (3 cm) per year, and by age 25, less than 0.4 inches (1 cm). This gives you an idea of how long they have to live in order to reach their largest size!
Diet and hunting
The goliath grouper’s favorite food is crustaceans, such as shrimp, lobsters, and crabs. The will also eat fish, octopuses, and young sea turtles. They are large enough to eat fish the size of parrotfish and stingrays!
The many rows of teeth talked about earlier are not normally used for chewing. In fact, most food is swallowed whole! Instead, the teeth are mostly used for grabbing onto the prey and keeping it from escaping.
Habitat and range
This fish lives in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In the Pacific, they live on the coast of North and South America where their range extends from southern California to about the equator. In the Atlantic Ocean, they live off North and South America and Africa. On the New World side, they range from Florida, through the Caribbean, and about two-thirds of the way down South America. In Africa, they occupy about a quarter of the western coast in the area north of the equator.
These fish never stray very far from the coasts. They prefer waters that aren’t deeper than 150 feet (46 m). They also like areas with plenty of rocks or coral at the bottom, as places like these are more likely to house food. The adults live in large sheltered places, such as caves, ledges, or shipwrecks.
Status and threats
The goliath grouper is actually a genus with two species: the Atlantic goliath grouper and the Pacific goliath grouper. The Atlantic species is classified as ‘Critically Endangered’ by the IUCN Redlist while the Pacific species is not classified.
Probably the biggest threat to this fish is overfishing, even though catching and keeping it is illegal in Florida and presumably other states and countries. Their large size makes goliath groupers a prize catch, and some people may want to keep the fish even if it is illegal. They also provide excellent meat, which doesn’t help their survival.
These fish are large enough that the adults have very few, if any, natural predators. The juveniles have a few predators though. These include abrracuda, mackerel, eels, and a few species of sharks.
Most of the year, goliath groupers are solitary animals. From July to September, however, they gather in groups of 100 or more individuals to spawn. After the eggs are fertilized, they scatter throughout the water and hatch into the larvae. The tiny goliath groupers look roughly the same as the adults, except they have two long spines, one coming from the top of their head and the other from the bottom.
The young are about an inch (2.5 cm) long. About six to seven years later, the young will breed for the first time. These fish have been known to live 30 years or more!
- Goliath grouper – Albert kok