Many times I get asked the question, "How many fish have you lost to sharks?" and I always find it interesting how people that don't dive or spearfish frequently automatically associate what we do with sharks and attacks and how they typically believe that these are some kind of single threat. The truth is that although I have been buzzed by sharks and even surrrounded by sharks, historically, I have lost countless fish to barracuda while losses to sharks had always remained a distant second place (with none, thankfully). However, this past week sharks were surpassed by another denizen of the deep that many (not typically spearfishermen) overlook as a true threat to divers and spearfishermen with their brazen and sudden attacks of speared fish... Goliath groupers! To make matters worse, they typically destroy your gear while doing it, so you not only end up with no catch, but down a $70 spearshaft as well (if you're lucky and able to hang on to the rest of your gear).
This past week we were fortunate to have some of the best diving and spearfishing weather that you could've asked for. Almost 7 straight days of less than 10mph winds from the SE to E and seas so slick you could water ski on the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the week went as we had hoped with the single exception of the conspicuous absence of the large schools of massive mangroves that we were hoping for on the reef. Other than that one fact however we were having a great week. After a few days of diving the reef, with the morning high tide starting to approach that mid morning time, we decided to hit some of our old haunts off the 7 mile bridge, some of which we hadn't visited in well over a year.
The first day we arrived in the area just in time to spend 45 minutes swimming against the incoming tide waiting for the slack current in between. Unfortunately the full moon was wreaking it's usual havoc with the tides and the slack tide lasted all of about 5 minutes. The sea fans had barely stood upright before starting to lean in the outgoing tide's direction. So we attempted some drift dives and were spotting some nice size groupers but they were fairly skittish as the water in this area is typically dirty and they look at any shadow as an impending threat (or maybe it's just me). As we approach the big ledge we were looking for, my brother in law spots a bullshark about 15 feet ahead of me. I spot numerous tarpon swimming by so we convince ourselves that the shark is more interested in them than in anything we're doing and continue on. Just before the ledge I spot what I believe is the same 7-8 foot bullshark once more. We're a little more concerned but we continue on. Once on the ledge, we spot numerous Goliath Grouper ranging from 80 to about 350 lbs in size. These fish are impressive to behold and immediately approach to investigate us without fear.
My brother in law spots a good black grouper sticking her nose out from a small ledge to see what's going on and lands a holding shot as she tries to swim away. Luckily the fish doesn't hole up too deep and I immediately swim down to retrieve it for him and hand it off. Having already spotted at least one shark in the area, we boat the fish as quickly as possible to avoid making the shark too curious. Knowing this small ledge has multiple entrances I drop to see if anyone else is home. After peering under the ledge finding no fish, I glance over to my right as I start to ascend when I spot what seems to be about a 10lb Cubera Snapper. Cubera's are not common in this area or depth and I have only shot one other here about 12 years ago, so I immediately get amped up at the possibility. Knowing that I can't surface or I risk losing the fish, I decide to quickly turn and take the shot, that lands center mass. The snapper immediately swims for the apparent safety of the relief of the 4 foot ledge behind me and I'm unable to keep him from doing so.
I surface while keeping tension on the line but can't seem to work the fish out of the ledge on my way up. Almost immediately I am pulled under while tugging on the reel line and it's now that I hear the distinct crunching sound of a Goliath Grouper taking my catch. I continue to fight for my fish and gear but moments later my line goes slack and I pull up an empty shaft. "The *#$%@ing goliath ate my cubera!" I shout to the boat. I was incredibly pissed off. I couldn't believe that stupid opportunistic fish had just made a free meal of my Cubera. Luckily the Goliath didn't bend my shaft and I was able to reload and continue hunting (not that I caught anything else after that). After all this commotion and with a bullshark in the area we decide to call it a morning. We finish out the dive with a couple of red and black grouper and discuss coming back to the same ledge tomorrow as by now the current is moving at a pace where we can't even maintain a position as the tide is sweeping us out.
The next morning finds us arriving at the same spot but this time we make way to the big ledge immediately upon our arrival. I'm the first to arrive at the ledge and immediately see multiple grouper darting around (most likely in fear of their lives) when I select one, take aim and squeeze the trigger. The shot strikes home and I pinwheel the grouper. As I'm seeing the grouper spin on the shaft, a Goliath Grouper that appeared to be about 350lbs darts out from underneath the ledge and proceeds to swallow my grouper whole right in front of me! I immediately start tugging on my line as I surface but it's like trying to lift a barn door through the water and the grouper takes my catch and spear right back under the ledge from whence she came. I make no progress in my game of tug of war with this behemoth all the while trying to make sure I'm clear of my line in case she decides to go deeper into the ledge so my arms aren't tangled in the line and she doesn't pull me under. Luckily my brother in law was able to take advantage of my preoccupying this goliath to land a beautiful black grouper of his own only about 20 feet away.
What seemed like minutes later (although I'm sure it was about 15 seconds), I retrieve my shaft from under the ledge which now more closely resembles a 5' metal boomerang. I couldn't believe it. Two fish lost to Goliaths in as many days and now I've got a wall decoration for what used to be my spearshaft. I tried straigtening it out back on the boat, but it was too far gone. I switch guns and end up the dive with no catch for my efforts. Not the way I wanted to close out my last dive but sometimes it's just the way things work out. Regardless we had an excellent week with plenty of other fruitful dives to be happy about (but it's always the bad ones you dwell on...).
So I've officially lost more fish to Goliaths than sharks on a ledge that we know sharks frequent. While sharks are certainly more of a danger to us directly with respect to bodily injury, which one is more of an issue? Spearfishermen experience these nuisances first hand and can do absolutely nothing about it due to their protection as an endangered species. I don't know, but it seems to me that they've made quite the bounce back from endangered to annoying quite well.