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Date of Issue: March 25, 2009


Big, big stuff out there today and in years past

Big things are brewing and have been breeding out there.

Goliath grouper are getting more plentiful in local waters. In fact, the big fish are becoming something of a pest for artificial reef fishers, who are finding time and time again that their catch is only half its original size thanks to a big munch by the bigger fish.

And then there’s the new findings of fossils of a huge marine carnivore off an island from Norway that was about 50 feet long and likened to a great white shark.

Goliath grouper

Goliath grouper, not too long ago called jewfish until deemed politically incorrect, are the largest of the grouper family at upwards of 800 pounds. The fish were a popular target for spearfishers for years, since they’re big and slow and tasty.

Anna Maria Island tales of a huge jewfish — oops, Goliath — that haunted the wreck of the molasses barge “Regina” were legend about 30 years ago.

In 1990, a ban on any taking by any means of Goliath grouper was enacted in U.S. waters due to a dramatic reduction in the big fish’s numbers that was directly attributed to overharvesting by humans.

The ban seems to have worked, and the fish are coming back in large numbers. Fishers regularly complain of hooking the big fish off near-shore reefs, or reeling up parts of other grouper species after their big brothers have snatched off a hunk as it passes their watery lairs.

“Goliath grouper have become accustomed to eating hooked fish, making it essentially impossible for an angler to successfully bring a hooked fish to the boat,” wrote Dr. Chris Koenig of Florida State University in “The Marine Scene” by Florida Sea Grant’s John Stevely.

“Spear fishers increasingly report alarming encounters with Goliath grouper aggressively attacking speared fish,” Koenig said. “Many folks have suggested that perhaps the time has come to allow keeping a limited number of Goliath grouper.”

He adds that more data are needed on the big fish for any change in taking.

‘Jaws’ on a big scale

The New York Times reports there was another really, really big fish found in the northern Atlantic Ocean waters about 150 million years ago.

“They swam with mighty flippers, two fore and two hind, all four accelerating on attack,” wrote John Noble Wilford. “In their elongated heads were bone-crushing jaws more powerful than a Tyrannosaurus rex. They were the pliosaurs, heavyweight predators at the top of the food chain in ancient seas.”

Scientists have now literally uncovered fossils of a new pliosaur on Spitsbergen Island off Norway that is thought to be the largest marine reptile of its kind: “at least 50 feet long, 45 tons, with its massive skull 10 feet long, and the flippers, more like outsize paddles, also 10 feet. The creature — not yet given a scientific name but simply called the Monster or Predator X — hunted the seas 150 million years ago in the Jurassic Period.”

A two-hour documentary on the expedition to locate the fossils will be shown on the cable television History Channel at 8 p.m. March 29.

Scientists have assessed the skull remains and determined that the structure is “similar in many respects to the great white shark, the top predator in oceans today.” The critter “might have been comparable to the white shark in hunting strategy, but much more powerful.”

A Florida State University biologist ran some studies on the “bite force” of the pliosaur and came up with a 33,000-pound number, “more than 10 times that of any animal alive today and two to four times the bite force of T. rex. “There is nothing really comparable in the sea today,” the scientists concluded.

Let’s see — we’ve got something 50 feet long that has huge teeth, which can chomp on its prey with the force of more than 15 cars being dropped to the ground. Makes you glad you didn’t live 150 million years ago, eh?

Sandscript factoid

Although fisher’s reports of Goliath grouper snatching their fish are rampant, studies indicate that a typical diet for the fish formerly know as jewfish is 85 percent crustacean, mostly crab.

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