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Nassau grouper fish finds unusual spot to ambush prey

Giant barrel sponges are the oldest known living creatures on the planet. Older than even the giant redwood trees of Western North America, they can grow to an impressive 6 feet across and survive as long as 2300 years. They are animals, despite living a life fixed to the coral or ocean floor, as a plant would. They are a crucial part of the reefs and ecosystems in almost all tropical waters. Providing habitat for creatures both large and small, as well as food for fish and Hawksbill sea turtles, they are important to the survival of many species. They also filter water, removing plankton and bacteria, which they feed on, contributing to ocean cleanliness and clarity. This Nassau grouper has taken refuge in this large barrel sponge. He is also an impressive creature, that can grow to a length of 3 feet. Full grown, he might weigh as much as 55 pounds. At this size, there are few creatures on the reef, aside from sharks and humans that pose any threat to him. Barrel sponges have large hollows and this one makes the perfect place to hide. Possibly to rest, or else to wait in ambush for a fish to swim past, the Nassau grouper was sitting motionless in this sponge when divers drifted past. Crabs and lobsters, a preferred food of the groupers, will occasionally take refuge in barrel sponges and it is possible that this grouper is hoping one will climb inside with him. This marine park off the shore of Little Cayman Island is home to many Nassau groupers, even though their numbers have dwindled worldwide. The groupers have become accustomed to respectful divers and they do not fear humans. They will even follow or approach scuba divers curiously. The grouper is a highly intelligent fish that has even been known to communicate with moray eels for the purpose of hunting in a cooperative manner. This inter-species communication is very rare in the animal kingdom and shows a level of understanding far greater than we would expect from a fish. On this occasion, a scuba diver slowly approached the barrel sponge and was treated to a very close look at the grouper before he swam off, wanting to be alone. The diver continued along and the grouper returned to his hiding spot on the sponge a few moments later.

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