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October 25, 2001

One-Eyed Grouper

How does a fish with such a physical disadvantage survive in the wild?

Q: While bottom fishing off Walker's Cay in the Bahamas, we caught this one-eyed strawberry grouper twice in 20 minutes and released it both times. When the mate saw that the hole [socket] was completely clean he said that the fish never had an eye. Did this fish bite our hook twice because it was blind on one side and couldn't recognize the hook, or is it just stupid? Will this fish more likely be eaten by another fish than would a fish with two eyes? And what might cause a fish to be born with only one eye? There wasn't any pollution where we were fishing. - Travis Clarke, age 9, Orlando, Florida
A: Your red hind (sometimes called strawberry grouper) looks pretty healthy considering it has only one eye. Red hind are full grown at about 15 to 20 inches, and your fish is about that big. One-eyed fish are definitely at a disadvantage - both in finding food and in protecting themselves from being eaten by predators - so it's rare to see a healthy, full-grown fish with only one eye in the wild. Its handicap may make the fish more aggressive when it comes to feeding and biting hooks, but it probably has a safe, protective hole nearby to shelter it from larger predators.
Although the eye socket is completely healed over with skin, it doesn't mean the fish wasn't hatched from the egg with two good eyes. Larvae and juvenile fish are very small and fragile, and it's common for other fish - even their own brothers and sisters - to attack small fishes' eyes. If your fish lost an eye when it was young, it has been very fortunate to survive so well. Far from being stupid, it must be more alert and aware than other fish.