By: Deland Humpherys
I’ve had a license to hunt lionfish for three years in the Caribbean. On February 4th I was doing a morning dive and moored off the southside in Roatan. As we descended to one of our favorite dive sites that I haven’t been to in months, I was 40 feet or so ahead of the group of four divers and two divemasters. All of the group are divemasters or instructors. At 36 feet I saw three large lionfish just off the bottom under a coral overhang. I scanned the area and did not see anything that would have prevented me from taking the lionfish, one divemaster was 15 feet behind and 10 feet above, and the rest of the group was blocked from view by the coral head. I approached the overhang and speared the closest lionfish. As I turned to put the lionfish in my ZooKeeper a six-foot green moray eel came out of nowhere and attempted to take the lionfish off my spear and me to the bottom. After a second or two, I was able to retrieve my spear and the eel went into a crevice with the lionfish. I speared the other lionfish that was still hanging out and placed it into the ZooKeeper. Not my best decision.
After we regrouped for the dive, I turned to see the eel approaching my dive buddy at a very fast pace. She was finning backward and the eel was hitting the ends of her fins. She was trying to go up and away from the wall, but the divemaster who was guiding her intervened and got the eel’s attention for a short time. I had the ZooKeeper and was slowly ascending but the green moray eel got the scent of the lionfish and started up after me. I dropped the ZooKeeper but he kept approaching, I stopped, held my fins still and the eel slowed his approach towards me. I did have to tap him on the nose twice before he went after the other divers.
As he approached the other divers they would fin to get away and this only made him swim faster in their direction. After a few minutes of playing the cat and mouse with several divers, the green moray eel finally went back after the ZooKeeper. I dropped the ZooKeeper to the bottom and the eel tried to get into it for the lionfish.
I descended to 102 feet where the ZooKeeper was now lying and got the eel’s attention away from the ZooKeeper long enough for the guide divemaster to attach a surface marker buoy (SMB) to the ZooKeeper and send it up. I again had to tap the eel on the nose to ward him off. He followed the ZooKeeper up to about 50 feet then abandoned the interaction and went back to the reef wall. We did recover the ZooKeeper floating at the end of our dive.
I do believe that someone has been feeding the eel with a spear as there are other sites we dive with green moray eels that will not approach the ZooKeeper or divers.
Things we took away from this encounter:
- Scan the hunting area and if green moray eels are present don’t hunt.
- If you encounter an eel after the kill be prepared to surrender the kill, willing or by force.
- Stay as still as possible, keep your fingers in a fist, and cover your face.
- Practice a quick release and salvage of the ZooKeeper.
- Don’t touch the lionfish with your hands until you are done hunting for the day.
- If you use gloves to clean the fish don’t use them to hunt with.
Time to dive!