A Fish Tried to Eat My Brother (Why I Write About Sea Monsters)

I’ve been asked in at least a dozen interviews what  ignited my passion for writing about sea monsters. Sure, my dad was a rock hound, and I’m an accomplished angler, with a known habit of doing hard-copy edits while shore-fishing, but when it came to pinpointing a pivotal moment in my life that ignited the spark, so to speak, I always drew a blank.

Until now.

I came across this 45-year-old picture recently. What you’re seeing is the silhouette of one of my little brothers – Stephen, to be exact – when he was less than a year old (I was 7). We were visiting the Coney Island Aquarium, in Brooklyn, NY, and I’d been given the task of lugging him around. I was getting tired, so when we were inspecting the shark tank, I sat him up on a windowed ledge so he could “see the fish.” Out of nowhere, a 500 lb Goliath grouper (then called Jewfish) came over and, after sizing him up through the glass, tried to make a meal of the little guy!

Poor little Stephen was terrified. Especially after I (sadistic child that I was) pointed to the approaching behemoth and said (with a smirk), “Look at that!” just as the fish was preparing to suck him in. The Next thing you knew, my baby brother was looking down the fish’s gullet and screaming for his life. And I (horrible brother that I was) fell on the floor guffawing. I seem to recall getting cuffed by mother at that point, but it’s a little hazy . . .

A giant grouper attempts to swallow author Max Hawthorne’s baby brother, through the glass of the Coney Island Aquarium

Of course, if blame is being assigned, one could also point a recriminating finger at my dad, who stood there snapping pics while his infant son was traumatized. Somewhere, I have another picture of him screaming with the fish behind him… No wonder the poor kid hates going in the water, to this day. On the brighter side of things, I got to see the terrifying effect a giant marine predator could have, up close and personal, and that impact has (obviously) stayed with me to this day.

Max Hawthorne

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