Red Lionfish Hunt
Every Monday afternoon Ocean Frontiers Dive Shop operates a dedicated dive boat to hunt and cull the invasive Red Lionfish in the Cayman Islands. This dive trip is part of an environmental project to remove the invasive Lionfish from Cayman Islands waters. By participating and joining this dive trip you will be doing your part as a scuba diver to help protect our coral reefs.
- Help find and spot Lionfish hiding on the reefs
- 1-Tank afternoon boat dive to remote dive sites
- Observe how the Lionfish are removed from the reef
- Enjoy fresh grilled Lionfish cooked on the grill
- Do your part to help the environment
- Excellent team or group activity
- Each team is lead by a Divemaster licensed to spear and remove Lionfish from Cayman's reefs
The Red Lionfish were first spotted in Grand Cayman in 2009 and have since established a large and growing population. In January 2010, Ocean Frontiers decided it had reached a point where direct action needed to be taken. The Red Lionfish are eating our native species of juvenile fish and damaging the balance of our fragile coral reef ecosystem. Red Lionfish were introduced to the Caribbean region by mankind and we feel it is our duty to make our best efforts to try and un-ring the bell.
Whilst we don't expect to ever completely remove the Red Lionfish from it's new home in the Cayman Islands, we do need to keep their population in check and do our best as scuba divers to reduce the numbers to a minimal level.
View the video above to see this environmental work in action. All video footage filmed from Ocean Frontiers dive boats during the Lionfish Culling Trips. Dive Staff using spears are licensed by the Cayman Islands Department of Environment and have completed a training program. Spearing of any other fish on Scuba in the Cayman Islands is prohibited and a violation of the Cayman Islands Marine Conservation Laws.
- East End PM 1 Tank Boat Dive every Monday
- Departs Ocean Frontiers Dock at Compass Point Dive Resort
- Boarding time at 1.30pm | Return 4.00pm
- Price US$75 each
Participation in the the Lionfish trip is recommended for more experienced scuba divers. Advanced dive certification is not required, but you are required to have made another prior dive on the island during your vacation, either with Ocean Frontiers Dive Shop or another operator to reorient yourselves.
The focus of the dive trip is to catch Lionfish, and your Divemaster and guide will be focused on this task.
Your safety is very important to us and we ask that divers signing up for this trip be proficient. In particular:
1- Own or Rent a dive computer and know how it works
2- Know and understand the diver buddy system
3- Practice good buoyancy control
4- Able to make a slow assent and safety stop without the aid of a line
For your safety there will be a Divemaster who remains on the dive boat as a 'Look-Out' at all times and serves as indirect supervision for all the customers on board. We do ask that all divers dive in buddy teams and follow standard buddy diving practices. If you do not have a buddy, we will buddy you up with another diver on the boat.
*If you feel you need additional supervision from a Divemaster, then we do not recommend this particular trip.
*If you are alergic to bee stings, you will not be permitted to carry the collection tube and may only act as a spotter on your team.
All divers on this trip are divided in to 2 or 3 teams of approximately 4 divers. Each team will be lead by an Ocean Frontiers Divemaster who is licesnsed to spear Lionfish in the Cayman Islands. The other divers on each team have the task of scouting and spotting the Lionfish on each dive site visited. One of the divers on each team will carry the containment tube (shown in video) and work side by side with the spearer to collect the culled Lionfish.
After all teams have returned to the dive boat a 'weigh-in' is conducted to see who caught the most Lionfish, smallest Lionfish and largest Lionfish. Upon return from the Lionfish trip with a successful catch, the fish is cleaned and grilled on our pool deck immediately after the dives and served for all to enjoy.
A Lionfish Culling Specialty Certification is available by signing up in advance for a separate class through Ocean Frontiers. The specialty certification class is not included in this trip. If you were to complete the Lionfish Specialty Certification you would then qualify to apply for a license to spear Lionfish from the boats of approved operators such as Ocean Frontiers. Participation on this trip does not qualify divers to spear lionfish in the Cayman Islands. Lionfish Culling Licenses are issued by the Cayman Islands Department of Environment.
What is the morphology and lifespan of Red Lionfish (Pterois volitans)?
1. The body is white or cream colored with red to reddish brown vertical stripes with the stripes alternating from wide to very thin and sometimes even merging along the flank to form a V.
2. The Lionfish has elongated venomous dorsal and anal fin spines. There are 13 dorsal spines, 10 to 11 dorsal soft rays, 3 anal spines, 6 to 7 anal soft rays and 2 pelvic spines. The fin membranes are often spotted or have small holes.
3. In their natural habitat they are commonly found to be between 320mm – 350mm/12.6 -13.8 inches in size, but they have been found as big as 474mm/18.7 inches.
4. In recent research conducted by REEF of non-native Lionfish, the average size found was 188mm/7.4 inches with the size range 25mm – 389mm/1 - 15.3 inches.
5. The largest Pterois Volitans / Red Lionfish specimen collected on the U.S. east coast, caught via hook and line off North Carolina in 2004, was over 430 mm/16.9 inches long and weighed approximately 1.1 kg/2.4 pounds.
6. The lifespan in the wild is up to 15 years, but as yet the lifespan in non-native waters has not been determined.
What is the habitat preference and behavior of Red Lionfish (Pterois volitans)?
1. Lionfish exhibit high site fidelity, i.e. they do not move much, and they are commonly seen in a nearly motionless posture with the head tilted slightly down.
2. Lionfish have been sighted in a wide variety of habitat types including; artificial sites, canals, harbors, estuaries, mangroves and shallow and deep reefs. From observations they appear to be at home and fully adapted to all these differing habitats.
3. Lionfish have been observed in water as cold as 13°C/56°F off the southern coast of Long Island, New York and as warm as 27°C/81°F in areas such as Turks and Caicos Islands, showing a tolerance to a wide range of temperatures.
4. It has been revealed that Lionfish stop feeding at temperatures of 16°C/61°F and below and that the average lethal low temperature is 10°C/50°F.
5. Lionfish are now being found in a large depth range from 0.6 metres/2 feet to 175 metres/574 feet, well beyond recreational dive depth limits.
What are the reproduction and growth facts of Red Lionfish (Pterois volitans) ?
1. As juveniles Lionfish live in small groups, but as adults they typically occur alone with individuals being relatively inactive during the day, typically sheltering in reef crevices.
2. Lionfish are reaching sexual maturity and reproducing as young as one to two years old and data collected to date (REEF) suggests that the Lionfish appear to be reproducing year round in Bahamian and other Caribbean waters.
3. As stated, Lionfish are generally solitary fish but during courtship males will aggregate with multiple females to form groups of three to eight fish, with the males using their spines and fins in an aggressive visual display.
4. Following complex courting and mating behaviors, the females release a pair of mucus coated clusters of eggs approximately every 30 days, which are then fertilized by the males. On average, these clusters contain between 2,000 and 15,000 eggs, although this number can be as high as 30,000 eggs.
5. The eggs are then freed by environmental micro bacteria, which break down the egg mass.
6. The larvae hatch after approximately four days and become competent swimmers two to three days after that. At this stage in their development Lionfish are already able to capture and consume ciliates and other small zooplankton.
7. The larvae metamorphose into adults at approximately 10-12 mm/0.4 – 0.5 inches in size, which is in the range of 20-40 days. The time period it takes Lionfish to reach their adult stage is long enough for eggs released in the Caribbean, i.e. Cuba, Jamaica or the Cayman Islands to disperse into the Gulf of Mexico.
What are the hunting methods of the Red Lionfish and what is the prey?
1. Given the tendency of the Lionfish to retreat to areas of hiding by day, this species was thought to be mostly nocturnal. However, recent studies have now shown that Lionfish have been observed feeding during the day.
2. Hunting behaviour includes the Lionfish hiding in unexposed places during the day, with its head down practically immobile, to stalking and cornering its prey by use of the outstretched and expanded pectoral fins when in full ambush mode. Lionfish prey is ultimately obtained with a lightning-quick snap of the jaws and swallowed whole.
3. The Lionfish is an undiscerning predator of small fish, shrimps, crabs and similarly sized animals and research has shown that of analyzed stomach contents, 70% was comprised of fish and 30% were crustaceans. Cannibalism has also been observed for this species in the wild as well as in captivity.
4. The most abundantly found prey in the Lionfish stomachs included basslets, shrimp and gobies and other cleaner fish. Other stomach contents included whole crabs, whole sand divers, jawfish with the eggs still in its mouth, and even juvenile groupers.
5. When consuming a large meal the Lionfish is capable of expanding its stomach over 30 times in volume, it is also capable of long term fasting and can go without food for periods of over 12 weeks without dying.
6. In its native range the Lionfish consumes 2.5% - 6% of its body weight per day.
Are Lionfish venomous?
1. Scorpion fishes get their common name from their ability to defend themselves with a venomous “sting” or stab.
2. Thirteen of the long dorsal spines, two pelvic and three of the anal spines are venomous, with the venom being produced by glands located in grooves on the spines covered with skin.
3. Lionfish have venomous spines from birth and these spines are used by the Lionfish both to capture their prey and deter predators.