Marine migration plays a large role in the ever-changing dive experiences to be found in Florida waters. There are various reasons sea creatures migrate and a basic understanding of migration patterns allows divers to seek specific experiences. Jupiter Dive Center tailors their charters so divers not only experience the beauty of the resident reef and wreck inhabitants, but also the extraordinary experiences that marine migrations create seasonally. The only question you have to ask yourself is What do you want to check off your bucket-list first?
Why do Species Migrate? The short answer is to ensure their survival.
People often move because of family needs or to better their life situations. Migratory marine species move for those same reasons. Some animals follow the food chain, others set off in search of a mate or return home to nest, and still others move because the environmental conditions of their homes have changed and are no longer favorable for that species.
Across the globe, warming ocean water temperature has spurred migration as temperature-sensitive animals seek a new location that replicates their old habitat. Once one species migrates, other species may follow—especially if one of the species is a food source.
Seventy percent of the Earth is underwater and the oceans are interconnected which gives marine animals plenty of opportunity to travel. The migratory route of the Gray Whale is one of the longest. Every year, whales leave their feeding grounds in the Arctic and head south to Mexican waters where they mate and calve before heading back to the cold Arctic sea. Round trip mileage? An impressive 12,000 miles. Closer to home, sea turtles, goliath groupers, and several species of sharks migrate to or through the waters off the coast of Jupiter.
Regardless of the migratory reason, the waters along the Palm and Treasure coasts offer a popular route for numerous species and provide divers plenty of opportunities to encounter these animals.
Bucket list dive #1: Sea Turtles
Several sea turtle species return to the Jupiter area to nest and breed from March through October. Leatherbacks are the first to arrive, followed by loggerheads, greens, and hawksbills.
What’s interesting about the sea turtle migration is that sea turtles often return to the beach where they were born.
How they find their natal beaches isn’t fully understood, however, research suggests that the earth’s magnetic field and water chemistry play a role in helping sea turtles navigate.
The Loggerhead Marinelife Center is located in Juno Beach and its research scientists monitor nearly ten miles of beach. In 2020, the scientists recorded 16,935 nests belonging to three species of marine turtles: Leatherbacks (286 nests), loggerheads (13,059 nests) and green turtles (90 nests). All sea turtles are considered endangered, which makes encountering them in open water all the more special.
Bucket List Dive #2: Goliath Groupers
Diving with a goliath grouper is an unforgettable experience. Their distinctive bark booms through the water—and then they swim into view, gentle giants stretching up to eight feet and weighing up to 800 pounds. Historically, goliaths ranged well beyond our state’s shores, now, they are primarily found in southern Florida’s waters.
In fact, every year from July through September, they aggregate off Jupiter, Florida to spawn. Seeing sixty or more of these behemoths in one spot is truly an incredible opportunity that only a fortunate few get to experience.
Bucket List Dive #3: Sharks
On August 2013, Katherine, a great white shark, was tagged in Cape Cod, Maryland by OCEARCH, a shark tagging program that helps scientist collect data. The female shark weighed in at a svelte 2300 pounds and stretched 14 feet, two inches in length. At one point, she gained national acclaim and had her own twitter account. Katherine’s tracker last pinged on November 18, 2020—a record as most transponders last an average of five years. According to OCEARCH, she repeatedly “traveled up and down the coast from Cape Cod to Florida with long forays to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and the offshore Atlantic.” While she’s no longer providing researchers movement data, she greatly expanded their understanding of the life of a reproductively mature female white shark.
More importantly, her celebrity sparked a new conversation regarding sharks and their contribution to healthy marine ecosystems. Katherine may be the most famous of the sharks that have migrated through Floridian waters, but she is by no means the only one.
For a map of animals currently being tracked, head over to ocearch.org/tracker where you’ll find specific pages that include loggerhead sea turtles, white sharks, blue sharks, tiger sharks, a bull shark and more. As recently as December, Freya, a white shark, was in the Straits of Florida, Junonia, a loggerhead, pinged off the Keys, and Anthony and Oliver, two broadbill swordfishes were off the Treasure Coast.
While trackers can follow individual animals, many migrations are a group event. Each year beginning around December, blacktip sharks begin their trek south in large aggregations that can number in the thousands. Typically, they swim through Jupiter in February and by April, they turn and start their return trip north.
Lemon sharks are found in deep water while migrating, but are more commonly found in shallow ocean waters (to depths of 90ft) when they settle into a place—and one of those places is Jupiter. Lemon sharks visit Jupiter January through March. Known for their color, Lemon sharks have a pale lemon brown hue to their skin.
Make the most of your bucket list dives by learning more about the animals and the local diving before you jump in the water. Enroll in a specialty course such as Goliath Grouper, Sea Turtle, or Shark Awareness to learn more about the marine animals that pass through our local waters.
In the goliath grouper course, divers learn about identification, habitat, range, diet and their role in the marine ecosystem. Jupiter Dive Center partners with the Loggerhead Marinelife Center to provide divers (and non-divers!) an in-depth course on sea turtles that focuses on the five species that visit Jupiter during the breeding and nesting season.
The shark course takes a deep dive into how to identify different species, evaluate their behavior, discuss the myths and realities regarding their reputation, and how to employ the best diving tactics to avoid creating any potential hazards.
Roaming Versus Migration
All animals roam, whether to gather food, hide from predators, or seek mates. True migration is the seasonal movement of animals from one region to another. That movement allows divers to pick and choose some of their underwater experiences. Scientists don’t know all the reasons marine animals migrate, but one thing is for certain. It makes for great diving!
Do you choose to roam or migrate? We are here for you at Jupiter Dive Center; book your bucket list dives now