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A Day with Goliaths
By Matthew Sullivan, April 18, 2024 @ 04:00 AM (EST)

A group of goliath groupers hang in formation behind a piling, providing them some respite from the current. The individual in the foreground with the fishing line was easily six foot long and 600-plus pounds
 

Each year, as August rolls around, giants begin to gather on the wrecks and reefs off Florida. While goliath groupers are a resident species in Florida waters, they aren't especially common, and if they are seen, it is normally in ones and twos. However, as the dog days of summer arrive, these fantastic fish aggregate on the deep reefs and wrecks for spawning. Reaching upwards of six feet long and over 800 pounds, these are truly beastly and magnificent fish.

The peak season for diving with the goliaths is generally mid-August to mid-September with a grace period on either end. A conundrum for photographers is that the best days to dive with goliaths are also the toughest to shoot! Getting goliaths gathered in numbers on wrecks or static is easiest when the current is ripping. For those lucky enough to time it correctly, those are also the best conditions for getting massive schools of baitfish clustered around the groupers. I haven't been lucky enough to have massive baitballs but there is always hope for the next time!

Many individuals are not particularly shy and will allow a very close approach or quite often will approach the photographer. Their habit of doing that and their immense size means a fisheye lens is almost a must on these dives. Even then, sometimes they are too big and too friendly to fit in the frame! The images here were all shot with either the Olympus 8mm f/1.8 Pro fisheye on the OM System OM-D E-M10 Mark IV, or the Nikonos RS 13mm on the Sony Alpha 9.
 

A medium-sized individual with a small posse of baitfish. An unfortunate reality is that a significant percentage of the goliaths in Florida waters sport fishing related jewelry or injuries. This one has a massive hook lodged in the top of its mouth
 

A smaller goliath huddles out of the current beneath a chunk of a wreck. The baitfish huddle around the groupers as protection from predatory fish like jacks, but every once in a while the groupers will suck down hundreds in a single gulp
 

A truly giant goliath, further emphasized with a fisheye lens, resting out of the current behind a piling with some if its equally enormous friends
 

A diver (Ariana Paone) rests on the side while observing an average-sized grouper
 

A goliath trio, sheltering between a sand ridge and a wreck, out of the current. Goliaths are lazy and if they don't have to fight the current, they'd prefer not to
 

A big goliath swims up to the camera for its close-up. The scars on its face are possibly from an entanglement with a fellow grouper. While their teeth are small, they have thousands of them and they are razor sharp—like harsh sand paper
 

A sextet (with two others barely visible) of goliaths huddled up behind a piling and surrounded by baitfish. This particular dive site is a favorite amongst photographers as it is shallower than most other goliath dives and has some VERY big fish

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