Snapper Spawning (Palau — 95 fsw)

As they say, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

We had reserved a 2-3 day window to dive the USS Perry which is the pinnacle of wreck diving in Palau. Unfortunately, the wind and weather were not cooperating so we considered a few other options (BTW, the team eventually was able to dive the USS Perry but I was on a flight that day and couldn’t make it).

One of the options instead of the USS Perry was to go dive the Red Snapper Spawning event.

I had heard about the different spawning events when I was in Palau in March 2022 and thought it would be cool to witness one but the timing wasn’t correct on that trip. This trip, the timing was right AND we had the expert of diving spawning events, Richard Barnden, with us. Richard is a world renowned expert underwater photographer and an expert in these spawning events in Palau after having spent 18 years there. What a perfect opportunity.

The Dive

The alarm went off at 5:00 am and I grumbled a bit but quickly headed upstairs to get some coffee and wake up. I was definitely looking forward to the dive even though it was early. The plan was to have a quick bite to eat and then be on the skiffs and headed towards the dive site by 6:15 am and get in the water just as the sun was rising.

Timing is critical for witnessing the spawning – both in terms of the moon, tides, time of day, etc. You have to get it just right in order to witness the main event.

When we got to the site, Richard took a quick look in the water and gave a “thumbs up” that we had found the school of fish. We all geared up and entered the water.

These events can have between 5,000 and 10,000 fish depending upon the month and how close the day is to the full moon. When we first entered the water, there were a lot of snapper, but they weren’t congregating necessarily.

After a short period of time, they started to form into a very large cloud that would move across the reef going from pinnacle to pinnacle and from deep to shallow. It was almost like they were “dancing” in the water. They started to move back and forth and then they would shoot towards the surface as a multiple females broke away from the crowd and laid a cloud of eggs. The males would then chase after them and release their milky gametes into the water.

They would then disperse and do it again a short time period later.

The cycle repeated itself for perhaps 5-7 times over a 45-50 minute period and then just stopped. From what I hear, the snapper then go into the shallows and rest for the remainder of the day until they repeat the ritual the next day. Maybe they lay back and have a smoke as well.

Photos

I had never witnessed one of these events but got some coaching on where to be during the process to take photos. It worked out reasonably well but I never really got close enough. I didn’t want to “scare” the fish away and ruin the experience for the other divers. I later found out that once they are in this crazy action, divers won’t scare them away unless they are using really bright, continuous video lights.

My pictures turned out okay but nowhere near the quality of Richard’s photos. Of course, he spent many years witnessing these events and is a world class photographer!

Here are a few photos of the event. If you are ever in Palau and the timing is right, I highly recommend going to see a spawning event.

The “start” of the dance as the crowd gathers
Gathering steam as it moves across the reef

Males chasing the females near the surface
A frenzy ensues
The group then disbands and rests before the next cycle
Fertilizing the eggs (note the “milky cloud” in the center)
Sun rising with a cloud of snappers and a diver
Another cycle ending
Oceanic Blacktip shark amongst the snapper

2 thoughts on “Snapper Spawning (Palau — 95 fsw)

  1. Brett,

    I’ve seen dogtooth snapper in a column rising from the bottom at 90’ to within 30’ of the surface. It was a fairly tight spiral with fish up to 60#. I’ve seen this dogtooth snapper column a few times, each time in the late afternoon, each time when other freedivers were resting.

    Jim

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