Swimming with a Goliath

Our dive club went out with Scuba Shack of Pensacola last Sunday and had two excellent dives on the San Pablo Freighter and the Ocean Wind sites.  We’ve been getting a lot of rain this summer and we also had west winds which is not ideal for the panhandle so it wasn’t surprising that from the surface as we headed offshore conditions didn’t look very good.  But after we arrived at the first site and the deckhand returned from hooking us into the wreck, she reported that despite how it looked visibility at depth was excellent.  We descended through the murky surface layer and sure enough were greeted by 40-50′ of visibility on the other side.

The San Pablo site is a great dive; it is not an intact wreck but there are large structural sections that provide a nice environment for marine life.  The quantity of fish was impressive.   There were large schools of tomtate, cigar minnows and even smaller glass minnows swarmed the site.  Jack cut through the bait schools and grouper and snapper hung around the inviting structure.  Tropical fish including butterflyfish, damselfish, and angelfish were abundant as well.  Frogfish, octopus, moray and at least a few lionfish were also spotted throughout the wreck.  I found plenty of interesting subjects for close-up and wide-angle shooting and at the safety stop a large group of barracuda lazily drifted through the pea soup providing a few last photo opportunities.

barracuda in pea soup

The second site, the Ocean Wind tug, is very new having only been sunk 1.5 years ago.  Just as before, we descended through the murky surface and found nice visibility on the wreck.  Despite being a new site it was already covered with fish and we were also fortunate to encounter a goliath grouper that was hanging out on the tug’s bow.  I’d been wanting an opportunity to shoot a goliath so I took advantage and spent a large portion of the dive focused on this exceedingly friendly specimen.  The tremendous amount of bait in the water did make shooting the goliath a little challenging.  At times it was so swarmed by glass minnows that it was nearly impossible to see it clearly from just a few feet away but luckily I got some opportunities when the minnows would briefly disperse.  The encounter was humbling, despite the goliath being very approachable, and even with dual strobes and a wide-angle lens, shooting such a large subject and getting a good exposure was more difficult than shooting smaller subjects.  Of course, the 30 feet of murk at the surface didn’t help by making it quite dark and challenging the tg-4 sensor. I took 51 shots of the goliath which produced fewer than 10 keepers, but it was an excellent learning experience and a cool encounter that enhanced an already enjoyable day of diving.

Goliath Grouper on the Ocean Wind

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