Sea of Cortez Memoirs: Grouper in the Bay

While my parents were recovering from their ordeal, I decided to go snorkeling around the docks. There were these really weird diamond-shaped fish, called “triggerfish,” that had a crowded tiny mouthful of human-looking white teeth, and I was diving down under the docks to watch them eat clams and mussels. Their teeth were so strong they were able to chip away at the muscle shells bit by bit until there was a hole big enough to get the meat out of it. Some of the triggerfish were large and brightly colored, and none seemed particularly frightened of me. I didn’t get too close, though, because judging by how easily those teeth bit through solid shells, I could imagine what they could do to me.

I swam along under the docks, checking out triggerfish and the various other finned creatures hanging around in the shadows, and then down at the far end, out toward the deeper water, there was this funny looking boulder. I’d been out there before and didn’t remember it being there. It was deep in the shadow of the dock, hard to see with the bright sunlight shining all around, and I was right up next to it before I realized it was not sitting on the bottom. It had fins. Then I saw an eye, which was gold and black and about the size of my hand, and the whole thing moved slowly forward and a mouth opened. My whole head could have fit inside that mouth.

I swear to God, I shot straight up out of that water and onto the dock, all in one fluid torpedo-like motion. Just a big splash, and I was standing on the dock, looking down. It was still there, but moving out of the shadow. I looked around and saw some local kids I’d befriended, and I started shouting, “Look at this big fish! Look at this big fish!” They didn’t understand any English but they understood I was freaking out about something, and they ran down the dock and peered into the water. One was a little girl, and she screamed. The two boys grew as excited as I was. The older one ran off to get someone. I stood there with the little boy and girl and watched as the massive fish slowly cruised away from the dock, having decided that it was no longer a good place for a nap.

Later I was told that it was a fish called a grouper and that it was really rare for one that big to have been up in shallow water like that. The speculation was that it was somehow driven into the bay by the storm. Another person said it was probably sick, and came up for the warmer water. Whatever the reason, it was one of the most intense animal encounters of my life.

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