Friday, May 19, 2017

A Shocking Discovery at Looe Key Marine Sanctuary


Cudjoe Key, Florida (high 90, low 80)

We have been back in the Keys since early March.  I intended to update my blog regularly, but somehow fun got in the way and it never got done.

I will try to catch up, but not necessarily in chronological order.  In March, and early April we were busy setting up our new home.  Most of April, the wind blew hard every day which didn’t allow us to take the boat out.  We were getting pretty discouraged but finally the wind died down AND we got a waterfront canal spot to keep our boat.  Thanks to the generosity of a wonderful neighbor, our boat is in the water right behind our fifth wheel.  It’s just steps away from us, so it makes it so much nicer to use the boat.  All we have to do is grab our stuff, walk across the street, jump into the boat and go.


Our favorite place to snorkel and dive is Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary.  No fishing or spearfishing is allowed, and everything is protected.

Al and I have been Scuba certified since 1983.  It’s kind of funny, but he lost his PADI certification card and we needed to get another one in order to fill our dive tanks.  We went on line and ordered an E-card.  I was a little worried they still had records or us because basically we were certified before the internet!   Funny huh?  

Looe Key Reef is 8 miles out from us,  on the Atlantic side.  If it’s calm you can get out there in just a few minutes.  They have anchor buoys that you hook onto instead of dropping an anchor.





Here are a few of the photos I took from our snorkel and dive trips. I hadn’t actually dove in many years, and it felt really good to actually put on a tank and go down and see the fish, eye to eye.  It took us a while to figure out what happened to our gear.  The damn weight belts must have shrunk since we last used them, and we had to make some adjustments.  Smile


These purple sea fans used to be everywhere in the Keys, but due to reef decline in the past 40 years, there have been fewer of them and the ones you see never looked very healthy.  I was pleasantly surprised to see these gorgeous deep purple sea fans.  Most didn’t look this good.

reef fish


These are yellowtail snapper.  They are very good to eat, and you can  literally reach out and touch them at Looe Key.  If you toss a piece of bread into the water hundreds immediately go for it.  Once you get one inch outside the sanctuary  boundary, you can’t find a yellowtail to save your life!   Darn fish!  They are too smart.  They like to hang out under the boats at Looe Key Reef.  I’m not sure if it’s for shade or handouts.



This is a typical reef scene with some healthy looking coral and a school of Sergeant Major fish.  There is a lot of dead coral, so this was nice to see.

Diving at Looe Key Reef


This is one of the many types of Parrotfish.  They can get quite large.  This one was not nearly as large as I have seen.  They have huge teeth and they chomp on the rocks and excrete sand.  Remember that the next time you lay out on a nice white sandy beach.



Diving at Looe Key Reef


If you look closely, you can see his front teeth. This is another of the many colors of parrotfish.


His teeth were extremely yellow.


Another parrotfish.  They often appear to be smiling.


The advantage of scuba diving, verses snorkeling is that you get to point the camera toward the surface and get this type of shot.



Diving at Looe Key Reef


This is another typical reef scene.  You can see sergeant majors, and in front, the red fish is another parrotfish.








Diving at Looe Key Reef




French Angel fish

French Angel


Butterfly fish, I think?

Diving at Looe Key Reef





These two little things are called Christmas tree worms. They are about 1 inch high. They feed on plankton in the water and if you get too close then retreat back into their little hole.  I needed a good close up lens where I could have gotten  as close as a few inches away  so this is the best picture I could get. 

Christmas tree worms on coral


File fish



Pretty large southern stingray



Just hanging around the reef.

Diving at Looe Key Reef


Our very favorite type of fish is one that was hunted almost to extinction.  They were put on the endangered species list in the 1980’s or 90’s  sometime.  They were called Jewfish back then, but due to the ridiculous political correctness, they are now called Goliath Grouper.  I will always think of them as Jewfish.

They weigh in in the hundreds of pounds, and are as gentle as a big old cow.  They can get up to 800 pounds and 8 feet long. You can reach out and touch them if you wanted to.  However, since that would be considered harassment, it’s not something I would do, plus its thought they are the fish that swallowed Jonah.  They just open their mouth, and and suck in their prey.  No way am I putting my hand or camera too close to those big mouths.  They were killed to near extinction because macho spear fishermen thought it was fun to swim up to them and shoot them with a bang stick (bullet).  They are so gentle, you can swim right up and touch them if you like.  What kind of “hunting” or sport is this?  It takes less  skill than it would to shoot a cow in a pasture.

Looe Key Reef was known to have a large resident Jewfish/Goliath Grouper and we were lucky enough to snorkel with him two years ago.  It’s absolutely incredible to get into the water with a fish that weighs 300-500 pounds.

We named him BOB (big old boy)

We were lucky enough to run into BOB again.

Isn’t he handsome?



The little fish underneath him is a Remora.  They are also known as sucker fish.  They have a suction cup type thing on their back and they will anchor themselves to large fish or even scuba divers.  I’ve had more than a few of them try to attach themselves to my legs.  Normally they are at least a foot long. These were the tiniest ones I’ve ever seen.  They are the only fish I could gladly shoot!







He hung out with us most of the day one day, staying underneath the boat most of the time.  I guess they like the shade.

That same day, we also had another visitor hanging out around our boat.  This one was less welcome and also not a bit afraid of us.

Al estimated this shark to be about 10 foot in length.  We weren’t sure what type it was but after some research we reluctantly decided that it was a bull shark.  Reluctantly, because they are one of the more aggressive types of sharks and I did not want it to be a bull.

Our neighbor Ron who is a boat captain and dive master at Looe Key Dive shop consulted with his coworkers and everyone felt it was a bull shark. He wasn’t aggressive, but sharks normally don’t hang around people much and will swim off when they see a human.  Tiger sharks, great whites, bulls and lemon sharks are the exception.  He wasn’t aggressive towards us and we figured he had plenty of fresh fish he could have eaten and didn’t need tough old people.



Al got this nice shot of the Jewfish and didn’t notice the shark swimming right by.



Goliath and Shark


That was a great day, but another day ended up being even better.

We were in the boat when we saw a Jewfish/Goliath swim under the boat.  Al got his snorkel gear on and jumped into the water.

Immediately, he tells me there are two Goliath’s.  A second later, he said no, there are three!   I look over the side and confirmed it, but then a second later, we saw four!   We had four Goliath Grouper right under our boat. 

I handed the camera to Al and quickly got my gear and jumped into the water.  We wanted evidence before they had a chance to swim away.

It was absolutely amazing to see four giants right under our boat.

It was difficult getting good pictures because:  1. the damn yellowtail were so thick I had to literally scoot them away.  2. The Goliath are so huge, it takes a wide angle lens (my camera has a wide 20mm lens) and you have to back off some to get them all.

Here are a few of the photos I took.  Keep in mind, they are right under our boat.  There are two here.  Note the boat propeller and ladder?



You can see part of all four of them here.


Goliath Grouper/Jewfish


Goliath Grouper


Goliath Grouper


This is a good example of what I was dealing with trying to get the Goliath photos.  The yellow tail were so thick I couldn’t see through them.



Goliath Grouper


The four Goliath were different sizes.  It looked like Daddy, Mama, a two babies from different years.  They ranged in weights from I’m guessing the largest 300-500 pounds down to the “baby” at maybe 75 pounds. 

It was an incredible experience.   We understand there are supposed to be 5 Goliaths residing on Looe Key Reef, and four of them spent time with us.  After  30 or 40 minutes one at a time swam away.  It was one of the most spectacular days we have ever had in the ocean (and we’ve had a LOT)

Goliath Grouper


Goliath Grouper/Jewfish

Remember the large bull shark?  He also swam under our boat a few times.  Notice the dive platform in the right side of the picture?

Bull shark under boat at Looe Key




Right after the bullshark swam by, Al caught this barracuda passing by.



Here are a few more random shots.



Diving at Looe Key Reef





Diving at Looe Key Reef'


The next photos are coming back into Venture Out.  We sure wish we had a waterfront lot.  It is so NICE keeping your boat in the water.



This is the canal where our boat is staying.  Isn’t it beautiful?



We had about 2 weeks of good weather with low winds and calm seas before it started blowing again. We were hoping for a day or two of wind so we could rest, but what we got was so far, was a week of strong winds.  Sad smile

We are hoping for a few more nice days before we have to leave.   If it’s too rough on the Atlantic side, you can often get out on the bay/gulf side, but the past several days have been too windy and rough to even move the boat to dry land.  We have it tied up pretty well, but the east winds are coming right into the canal with some 30 mph gusts.

When it’s windy in the Keys, you got to Key West to party. 

I will try to update the blog again.  We have Conch Republic Independence days, sunset celebrations at Mallory Square, Drag queen shows, drag races, happy hours with my Key West family, and much more.  It’s always fun in the Keys.