True Bluey or not, snorkellers hail Elvis of the sea

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BLUEY’S back. Or is he? The legendary Clovelly Bay groper, famed for befriending many a Sydney snorkeller, may have returned. Or he’s spawned a family.

Intriguingly, the new Bluey on the block could also be a female that has changed sex and simply replaced him, a phenomenon characteristic of the eastern blue groper species.

Bluey was thrust into the spotlight in 2002, when he was “murdered” by an unknown spear fisherman. So loved was the fish, the then NSW premier Bob Carr called the killer ”a mongrel”, before announcing five new aquatic reserves near Sydney beaches to protect marine life.
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”I have seen the groper,” the premier pronounced at the time. ”I have swum with him. I know the groper, he was a friend of mine.”

But then a year or so later, Clovelly swimmers sighted Bluey, sparking debate on whether rumours of his death had been greatly exaggerated. And this summer a large bright blue dominant male has been spotted.

A Coogee Pro Dive scuba master, Evan Batten, confirmed a Bluey lookalike was in the area, but said it was impossible to verify whether it was the original. Such sightings are so regular Mr Batten calls Bluey the ”Elvis of the sea”.

”Bluey is definitely a legend, he was extremely large, 1.2 metres long and a very rich blue. But did he get killed? Was it really Bluey they speared? Maybe he escaped and now has come back?”

To John Rowe, the secretary of the Gordons Bay Scuba Diving Club, Bluey is ”the Phantom”, named after the comic-strip character who never dies. While he was a long-time fan of Bluey, Mr Rowe said no one knew when the legend began ”especially because when the dominant Bluey dies a dominant female becomes the new Bluey,” he said.

All eastern blue gropers start life as greenish-coloured females, though some will change sex and colour to become blue males.

Professor Steve Kennelly, the director of fisheries research at the Department of Primary Industries, doubts the original Bluey is still alive and suggested another fish may have simply replaced him. ”It’s safe to say a Bluey or Bluey’s relatives are back but it’s definitely not him or his son,” he said. ”I’d be very surprised if it was the original as he wouldn’t have lasted this long.”

Professor Kennelly said public outrage over Bluey’s death had helped promote a need to protect the species. It has been illegal to spear gropers since 1969 – they can only be fished with a rod and line. In 1998, the eastern blue groper was announced the official fish of NSW.

News of Bluey’s possible return excited Mr Carr.

”I snorkelled at Clovelly a few weeks ago and was happy to see a family of gropers enjoying the crystal clear water with me,” he said. ”Why anyone would spear them is still beyond my understanding.”

http://www.smh.com.au/

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