Tarpon Fish 101


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If you have been here in the summer diving with us, you will know that the Tarpon Fish, or as we say in spanish, Sabalo, come in at the start of summer, hang out and as soon as the fall weather comes in, they sccot out of here! They like the 35C weather, not the 30C weather….our seasonal temperature differences.

In an effort to educate, enlighten and enthuse our divers…we at the Abyss Dive Center, think it is important to highlight our seasonal ocean visitors. We discussed whalesharks, briefly, that was an ‘enthuse’ piece on the blog, we forgot about the enlighten and educate on that one, sorry. So we will try and do a better job on the Tarpon/Sabalo Facts.

Tarpon is the common name for members of the Elopidae family, large herringlike fish of the warm seas of the Western Hemisphere. They have been seen in waters that range from Long Island to Brazil and to the west coast of Africa and they do enter freshwater streams freely. (more about that later) Their heavy, silvery scales give them the name silver king.

Tarpons average 6 ft (183 cm) in length and 150 lb (67.5 kg) in weight, although some may be over 8 ft (244 cm) long (welcome to our babies in Mexico) and weigh more than 300 lb (135 kg). Active and predacious, they prey on schools of small fry. Tarpons are classified in the phylum Chordata , subphylum Vertebrata, class Osteichthyes, order Clupeiformes, the Elopidae family.

In our waters we find them in huge schools…..big schools and they are super friendly. On many occasions, but no guarantee, a diver has been surrounded by the school and it is euphora….it is amazing to see over 50 of these huge, massive fish, playing with you….like they are doing a Ring a Round the Rosey game…..

Here are some interesting facts about Tarpons: (now that we have gotten through the latin explanation)

  • Fossil research shows that tarpon have been swimming in our oceans since prehistoric times.
  • The life span of a tarpon can be in excess of 50 years. The oldest tarpon in captivity lived to be 63 years old.
  • Tarpon are primarily found in shallow coastal waters and estuaries, but they are also found in open marine waters, around coral reefs, and in some freshwater lakes and rivers.
  • Tarpon range from Virginia to central Brazil in the western Atlantic, along the coast of Africa in the eastern Atlantic, and all through the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea.
  • Tarpon have a special ability to gulp air at the surface when they are in a habitat that doesn’t provide enough oxygen.
  • In their larval stage, tarpon are transparent, have a ribbonlike body and prominent fanglike teeth, and are less than an inch long.

For more information check out www.floridamarine.org

Now about the Fresh water ‘thing’….there is a cave in Tulum called the Jail House, it is part of the Mayan Blue system which is located south of Tulum and it leads out to the ocean…There are many areas in Tulum where the cenotes lead out to the ocean….I am not referring to Casa Cenote, the famous mangrove cenote by the ocean where cave divers like to dive through the passage that leads from the cenote to the ocean, this is a cave system that is only accessible by cave certified divers….

In an area of the Jail House system there are Tarpons…this was brought to our attention over 7 years ago when one of our staff went to the End of the Mayan Blue Cave, the Jail House….and to their surprise….Tarpon…so this fact is very true..odd but very true. The super odd thing is…how did they get there, how do they feed and for how long have they been there. This cave system, unlike Casa Cenote, does not have a regular, ongoing exchange of fresh and salt water..there is an exchange but not as predictable and eye witnessing as Casa….Hmmmmmm

The Tarpons hang out in the ocean on Tortuga Reef and they are here until about November…it is like clock work…the temperature one day, one unpreditable day, changes…and they are poof! gone…just like that….sounds like the Canadians up north…as soon as it gets cold…poof! they are gone heading to warmer climates….

So first fish class, students. And if you have other interesting facts, or pictures to add, put them on face book under our Life Just Become Simpler in Playa Del Carmen Group or send them to us and we will post on the blog. Comments are always welcomed….share your experiences…and let others know if you were one of the lucky ones that was surrounded by these gentile and harmless creatures. Intimidating they are, scary they are not, and harmful to divers……that is like saying that Big old Santa Claus is harmful…NOT!

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