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Mister Grouper, a Goliath grouper, “Lord of the Reefs”
escorts Marc, a 3 year old boy, on magical travels and adventures in
his bay and Gulf of Mexico. Marc’s travels with Mister Grouper
allow us to see through their eyes how development impacts bays,
estuaries, and oceans. Children may picture Mister Grouper as the
hero in stories, helping his aquatic friends understand rapid changes
in their marine environment. In his lifetime, Mister Grouper
experienced tragedies and was classified a “critical endangered
species.” Today, Goliath grouper are protected by law. Stories and
illustrations provide lessons to show why we should protect and
enhance the bay’s unique flora and fauna for future generations to
© Copyright protected 2006 >Mister Grouper Talks to Marc by Capt. Gus
(Dear Reader, Story events are true until Marc falls off the dock.)
First Chapter – Marc Meets Mister Grouper
Excitement kept me awake every night, since Mama told me, “We’re all going to Florida to surprise Grandpa Boom on his 70th birthday."
I told my best friend, Alice, and all my friends at school, “Next week I’m going to see my Grandpa Boom in Florida. Grandpa Boom gave me a blue crab for Christmas. I named her, Billie. She has two big pinchers and can chop off your finger. Billie likes me, so she will not chop off my finger.”
Will I see Billie again? Before I left Florida, I dropped Billie off Grandpa Boom’s dock. Did Billie swim far out into the bay? Maybe Billie is swimming in the seagrass next to Grandpa’s dock.
“How long before the airplane lands Mama, I want to surprise Grandpa Boom?”
“Not much longer Marc. Your Grandpa is probably in his stinky crab boat catching blue crabs like always.”
Grandpa Boom is in his boat catching blue crabs and all kinds of fish in his crab traps, and I’m riding in an airplane…I can’t wait to see Grandpa and Grandma.
“Mama, can I ride in Grandpa Boom’s crab boat, and help him pull up crab traps?”
“Yes, you may ride in his stinky crab boat, don’t expect me come along. I don’t want to get all stinky.”
“Mama, every crab trap Grandpa Boom pulls out of the water has a surprise in it. Grandpa Boom catches; horseshoe crabs that look like tanks, stone crabs with big, strong pinchers that can crush a stone, and spider crabs that have long skinny legs.”
I hope Grandpa Boom catches seahorses that can wrap their tails around my fingers. I don’t like the scary soft lip catfish that can barb your hand, or the grumpy looking wide mouth oyster toad fish. Stingrays with barbs on their tails scarce me too!
“Mama, Grandpa Boom catches little blenny fish and pink shrimp. He catches flat face flounder and bay turtles that bubble under water.”
Maybe Grandpa Boom will catch a sheepshead fish covered in black and white stripes, or funny looking porcupine fish covered with sharp stick pins.
“Papa, Grandpa Boom caught an octopus with eight snake-like arms covered in suction cups. One time he caught a moray eel that wiggled like a snake and smelled bad.”
I hope Grandpa Boom catches a Big Goliath grouper with a round-shaped tail like the one I see at the Boston Aquarium. His eyes paid attention to my every move…I didn’t know if he wants to eat me or be my friend? All the fish in the aquarium moved out of his way and showed him respect.
“Marc, how can you remember all those fish?” questioned Papa.
Mama laughed, “It’s because Marc and I name all the fish he sees at the Boston Aquarium and Grandpa’s aquariums on his dock.”
“Mama, when I rode in Grandpa Boom’s boat, I saw 1-2-3 mullet jump out of the water. And I saw a slow pokey mommy manatee and her baby that couldn’t leap at all; only stuck their noses out of the water like turtles. The mommy manatee had cuts on her back and her small eyes were sad looking and that made me feel sad, too.”
“Marc, show Papa what I gave you for this trip,” grinned Mama.
“Mama gave me this small camera that fits snug in my pocket. I can take pictures of Billie swimming under water and walking on the dock. I’ll show Alice and everyone at school pictures of Billie and the fish Grandpa Boom catches. Mama, I wish I lived on the bay. I would take Alice for boat rides and she could meet Billie. I could wear orange pants and catch blue crabs and all kinds of fish in put them in Grandpa Boom’s aquariums.”
Grandpa Boom’s big aquariums tanks sit on his dock. Water is pumped from the bay and flows through the tanks, just like at the Boston Aquarium. Grandpa calls his aquariums shedding tanks, so blue crabs can shed their old shells for new soft shells.
We finally arrived at Grandpa’s house; I hoped he’s not in his crab boat.
“Mama, is Grandpa Boom at home?”
“I think so Marc. I see Grandpa’s boat tied to the dock.”
Someone is opening the front door. “Surprise, Grandpa Boom,” we all yelled.
Grandpa lifted me and hugged me. “I missed you Marc. Seeing you is the best surprise birthday… ever.”
“Boom me, Grandpa.”
Whenever I ask Grandpa to Boom me; Grandpa raises me high until my head touches the living room ceiling and says, “BOOM”. That is why I call him, Grandpa Boom.
“Grandpa Boom, have you seen Billie, my blue crab? What surprise did you catch for me? Look Grandpa! Mama gave me this camera. I can take pictures of Billie and all the different fish you catch in the crab traps.”
Grandpa Boom said, “Go check the shedding tank on the dock. There’s a big fish swimming in the tank…take his picture.”
The top of Grandpa Boom’s aquariums are as high as Mama’s kitchen sink, too high to see into; so I climbed onto a box and peered into the shedding tank.
“Grandpa Boom, I don’t see Billie?”
“What else do you see in the tank?” Grandpa yelled.
“There’s a large Goliath grouper, swimming round and round in the shallow aquarium. I know the grouper’s name, because he has a round-shaped tail. Mama and Papa take me to the Boston Aquarium to see all kinds of beautiful fish and penguins. I learned the names of many fish swimming in the aquarium. Grandpa Boom, is that Goliath grouper my present?”
“Sure is and you need to give the Goliath grouper a name. You named your blue crab, Billie. Goliath grouper grow bigger than your Papa and Mama weighing up to 600 pounds. Goliath groupers command respect from all other fish in the bay and are called, ‘Lords of the Reefs,” replied Grandpa.
“Respect means his name should be Mister Grouper.”
The next day I talked to Mister Grouper and toke his picture as he swam round and round in the shallow blue crab shedding tank. I knew Mister Grouper listened, because his big eyes turned and followed me each time I moved outside the tank. All the other fish and blue crabs in the shedding tank knew Mister Grouper was boss, because they moved far away when he swam by.
“Mister Grouper, the next time I come to Florida, I’ll bring Alice to meet you.”
“Who wants to go in the crab boat and catch blue crabs?” asked Grandpa.
“I do, Grandpa Boom.”
“Marc, if you’re going, I better ride along to make sure you don’t fall out of the boat,” said Mama.
Grandpa Boom used a pole with a hook at one end to catch the pot floats. Then he pulled a crab trap rope covered with green icky moss. Grandpa dumped the stinky mess of snapping blue crabs and whatever crawled, flipped, or flopped into a plastic box that sat in the bottom of the boat. One big blue crab refused to stay in the box. He climbed out and scurried around the boat. When the blue crab eyed and crawled for Mama’s foot, Mama hollered. I don’t cry like Mama; I caught the blue crab with Grandpa’s crab tongs.
“Marc, put the crab back in the box before she pinches someone!” screamed Mama.
“Marc, do you recognize that crab?” questioned Grandpa.
I didn’t know what Grandpa Boom meant; because all blue crab have big snapping pinchers that can chop off my finger.
“Don’t you know who that is? That’s Billie, the blue crab I gave you last Christmas,” smiled Grandpa.
Could this be Billie, the blue crab I released to the bay, when Christmas vacation ended?
“You’re right, Grandpa Boom. It looks like Billie with her red tip pinchers and shell painted all blue. Grandpa Boom, before I went home, I released Billie back to her bay home.”
“I know, but Billie is not too smart, and keeps getting caught in my crab traps. I guess the fishy smell of herring bait makes her tummy growl. Every time Billie gets caught, I release her. I know you love Billie,” replied Grandpa.
“Mama, there’s Papa standing on the dock waving at us.”
“Marc, it’s time to leave, are you ready to go home?” yelled Papa.
“No Papa, Mister Grouper said he wants to be back in the bay with Billie the blue crab.”
“OK,” said Grandpa. “Marc, you and Papa, take this big net and catch the Goliath grouper swimming in the tank and release him off the dock.”
Papa dipped and sloshed with a large net, missing Mister Grouper by inches. I hoped Mister Grouper understood; the big net meant Papa would release him to the bay.
“Mister Grouper, don’t be afraid, Papa is not going to eat you.”
But Mister Grouper acted afraid of the net and swam fast circling the shallow tank. He got so excited, his big round tail sent splashes of water flying from the tank soaking Papa and me. Papa and I were having fun and laughed, chasing Mister Grouper with the big dip net. But, I could tell Mister Grouper didn’t like the game we played. In the end, Mister Grouper flipped and flopped in Papa’s net.
“Papa, let me hold the dip net for Mister Grouper's release.”
Mister Grouper flipping and wiggling in the net and it weighed more than Mama’s groceries we buy at the market. Just before I released Mister Grouper he gave one huge flip sending dip net, Mister Grouper, and me off the dock into the bay. Down I sank to the bottom struggling for air and Mister Grouper swimming free. Mister Grouper proved a friend and quickly gave me magical goggles that covered my eyes, nose and mouth. The goggles helped me see and breathe, and to my surprise, I could hear Mister Grouper talk.
“Marc, you are in my bay home and together we will take exciting trips. Many of my friends wish to meet you.”
“I want my Mama and Papa, Mister Grouper!”
“Marc, I know you’re afraid and in a few days you will go home. But, first you must see and feel the good times and hardships my fish friends experience everyday. When you return home, you must tell everyone about bay and ocean pollution, illegal fishing, and how gill nets catch all the fish in the bay. Tell them how outboard boat motor propellers destroy important seagrass beds and scar the backs of manatees. You and your friends must learn to treat fish and their underwater homes better.”
“I will, Mister Grouper. But, when can I go home to Mama and Papa?”
Mister Grouper did give me goggles to see and breathe under water and told me not to be afraid. But I heard Papa shout when I fell off the dock. “Help, Marc just fell off dock!” I bet Mama, Papa, Grandpa and Grandma are real worried. Mama told me to always let her know where I’m going. Mama and Papa may be in the water searching for me around and under the dock. Maybe, Mama and Papa knew Mister Grouper gave me magical goggles so I could see and breathe under water. I hope so…maybe this is another scary dream. What’s that in my pocket? Feels like the underwater camera Mama gave me!
Second Chapter - Marc Travels With Mister Grouper
Mister Grouper and I swam through a dense forest of scary, underwater, tall tree trunks. Open shady spaces separated them. All the trees looked alike and grew in a straight line. Strong waves churned the water between the trees. Schools of small, fat, flat, and skinny fish swam back and forth between the trees.
“Mister Grouper, wait for me. This forest scares me. And the strong water current pushes me against trunks of trees that have no branches. Can I touch these trees?”
“Marc, those are not trees, they’re bridge support pilings. Don’t touch those bridge pilings!”
“Mister Grouper, you called these underwater, tree trunks, ‘bridge pilings.’ The bridge pilings I know are white and clean, not dark and scary. What are the names of those bark-looking creatures that cover the bridge pilings?”
“Marc, the bark creatures names are Pits, the barnacle and Mrs. Pinch, the oyster.”
I wonder why Mister Grouper said. “Don’t touch those bridge pilings.”
“It’s nice to meet you Mrs. Pinch and Pits. Do you twitch like a shrimp, jump like frog, swim like a fish, or do you talk?
One ugly pitted bark creature stuck out his tongue and said, “Little boy you’re asking stupid questions. Do I talk? Of course I can talk. I don’t bite, crunch, pinch or sting? But, if you touch me, I’ll slice your finger.”
“You are a rude bark creature.”
The bark creature at the base of the piling is flapped his shell mouth open and close, “Touch me, you frog-eyed, skinny-legged, wedded-toed creature, and I’ll pinch and slice your hand.”
“Never have I seen such sassy creatures. If my Grandpa Boom were here, he would blast you with his pressure washer gun the way he blasts barnacles, oysters, and other bark creatures that attach to his crab traps.”
“Marc, I said don’t touch those bridge pilings! If you touch Pits, the barnacle, and Mrs. Pinch, the oyster, they will slice your tender hands wide open…Watch Out! All fish have skin that is coated with protective scales. That’s so Pits and Mrs. Pinch can’t cut us with their razor sharp mouths.”
“Marc, we must swim the bay and inspect these bridges. Sometimes my friends need to be rescued. Abandoned crab traps catch innocence fish and bay turtles. Illegal gill nets capture the fish in the bay. Discarded nets and fishing line tangle fish and wading birds. Hospital care is needed for manatees, because speeding boats scar their backs.”
“Help, somebody please help me!”
“Look Mister Grouper, those pitiful cries came from those pitted-bark creature attached to the bridge piling, I’m pointing at.”
Mister Grouper swam towards the pilings, “Who’s crying ‘Help?” I can’t see which of you is crying ‘Help’.”
"Can’t you see? You’re looking at me. I’m waving my flag,” cried Pits, the barnacle. “I’m glued to this crusty bridge piling. Stripes, the sheepshead nibbles on me with his sharp teeth. No one ever takes notice I’m a barnacle, and have feelings, too.”
“Never mind Pits,” cried Mrs. Pinch. “I’m down below Pits on the bottom of the bay. I’m the oyster bar. Look for the oyster with the shell crunched and white stomach exposed. Grumps, the ugly oyster toad fish has round pearly-white teeth. Grump’s big mouth filled with round pearly-teeth just broke open my oyster shell. No one ever shows Pits and me respect. I bet if I carried a ‘Mother of Pearl’ in my tummy someone would notice me.”
Pits, the barnacle looks like pitted clumps of tiny volcanoes, each with a small fan waving from its volcanic shaped mouth. Her flag must be a truce sign waving at Stripes. Mrs. Pinch just sits and never moves. Her mouth is narrowly open, and each time I point at her, she spits a cloud of silt and clay at me, then, snaps her slotted-mouth shut.
“Mister Grouper, why does Mrs. Pinch spit at me?”
“Mrs. Pinch is a filter feeder of food from water just like Pits,” explained Mister Grouper. “Mrs. Pinch helps keep the bay water clean. Her stomach filters up to 5 liters of water an hour. She eats the plankton in the water, then she spits out the silt and clay that taste bad.”
Are those the villains darting behind those bridge pilings?
“Mister Grouper, those villains who nibble and crunch, they’re hiding over there, behind that crusty bridge piling!”
Curled his lips, and puffing his self bigger, Mister Grouper said, “Go away, Stripes and Grumps. Go nibble-crunch Tiger, the barracuda. Let Tiger nibble-crunch you with his bright, sharp, teeth, and see how it feels.”
“I’m scared Mister Grouper. Will Stripes and Grumps nibble or crunch me?”
“Marc, Stripes will not nibble you, because you’re not a barnacle, mussel, or a creeping crab. But those sharp spines on his back will poke holes in your hand. Watch out for Grump’s wide mouth. He will crunch your little fingers with his pearly white teeth the way he crunches Mrs. Pinch’s oyster shell.”
Swimming among the bridge pilings is exciting, but so spooky! I’m pretending to be a swimmer, like the swimmers I see in the Boston Aquarium. Those swimmers wear swim fins and goggles. They feed scary-tooth sharks, snake-like moray eels, and big pincher lobsters with handfuls of dead fish.
Third Chapter - Weepy, the Coral Polyp Reef
© Copyright protected 2006>Mister Grouper Talks to
Marc by Capt. Gus Muench
Page 6 of 9
Pits, the barnacle
Mrs. Pinch, the
Grumps, the ugly
oyster toad fish
Weepy, the coral
Eight Fingers, the
Bad Breath, the
Prickles, the spiny
Tiger, the barracuda
Blenny, the blenny
Billie, the blue crab
Sweet Lips, the
Pinky, the pink
Finless, the shark
Rip, the sawfish
Speedy, the tuna
Chatter Box, the
Hump, the humpback
Tail that Spears, the
Stony, the stone
Skinny Legs, the
Slow Poke, the
Black Ghost, the
Slick, the seal
Mrs. Tall Seed, the
Spooky, the snook
Recluse, the hermit
Old Timer, the
Fallen Star, the