updated on August 08, 2014

A Detailed History of Lionfish in North Carolina
This is the ORIGINAL NC lionfish timeline: it all started right here, on the Atlantis IV in August 2000!
 
 

Current Update: 08/08/2014 

2010-2011 update: Our YouTube channel has video footage of a lionfish collecting dive. And a special event at the James Beard House in Manhattan featured NC lionfish on the menu! 

Rachel Ray's magazine has an article about eating lionfish in the May 2011 issue. And the Field Guide to Coastal Fishes book now has the lionfish listed in the "Maine to Texas" edition !

Status quo- they are here to stay...

2009
news
"Lionfish Rodeo" Discovery Diving is taking steps to create a market in lionfish.

Cleaning and cooking/eating lionfish is becoming more common! Evidently they are a huge nuisance in the Bahamas and they are leading an effort to make meals out of them. 
Eat Lionfish, save the reefs link
 & Bahamas issues forum link
On the Atlantis IV, we have a few divers who are partaking in the lionfish dining experience. They taste great- much like sea bass, and are relatively easy to spear. Great caution, of course, must be taken when collecting and cleaning them. 
LEAK lionfish.JPG (1958313 bytes) July 2009, 1 day harvest

We still see newspaper and magazine articles about East Coast lionfish. Raleigh's News & Observer published another story just this summer. Discovery's "Lionfish Rodeo" is also making headlines.

Spring 2009:
Over the winter it seems that the bottom temps have dropped drastically, to the mid 40's off the NC coast. That is rather unusual, and there have also been reports of dead lionfish- seemingly as a result of the cold temperatures. 






Below is a "Lionfish timeline", in chronological order from when it began here in NC.
(We have not tested many of the links recently, so some might be outdated)

Use these quicklinks to jump to a specific year in the Lionfish timeline:
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 top of page
  2001 detail 2002 detail   Why is this so interesting? Important safety information Hit Counter


First seen on August 10, 2000  The NC invasion was seen first on the Atlantis IV!
by Darryl and Trish Boyer, on the D/V Atlantis IV: based in Atlantic Beach, NC. 

That day the lionfish was seen by divers on the Stern section of the wreck of the Naeco: 40 miles offshore, 130' deep.

lionfish2000-1.jpg (60124 bytes) lionfish2000-2.jpg (65024 bytes) lionfish2000-3.jpg (57551 bytes)
The first NC lionfish was photographed on August 10, 2000 by Darryl and Trish Boyer.
After they surfaced from their first dive, claiming to have seen a lionfish, we gave them a camera to bring back proof of their sighting on the second dive. (A few days after we got back the above photos). 
Later the photos were verified by Bob Jones of the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shires to be a lionfish.

Second Sighting: August 11, 2000
A second  lionfish was seen the very next day, 2 miles away from the first one. 
This time on the Bridge section of the wreck of the Naeco: also 40 miles offshore, 130' deep. 
Many of the divers on the boat that day saw the second lionfish, including crew member Renate Eichinger, divers Darryl & Trish Boyer, Mark Miller, and Kevin & Ann Hagerich. 

Also in 2000, reports were made by the D/V Olympus of possible sightings on the wreck of the Papoose.








In 2001
,

June 8, 2001: Naeco Stern
Numerous reports of lionfish sightings in NC were made, as early as June 8. 
This time on the Bow section of the Naeco wreck (a 3rd section, 4 miles from the other 2 pieces of the Naeco), two lionfish were seen and documented on film. That was only the beginning.  
We also heard that in August one was documented 60 miles off the coast of Georgia.

 
2001
Detail of subsequent NC Lionfish sightings

Condensed timeline of Lionfish sightings in 2001 off of the Morehead City, NC Coast
This is the ORIGINAL lionfish timeline: it all started right here, on the Atlantis IV in August 2000!

Date Vessel Location distance 
offshore
depth method
documented
witness
June 8, 2001 Atlantis IV Naeco Stern 40 miles South of Beaufort Inlet 130' additional photos taken by Darryl & Trish Boyer Joel Moody
June 10, 2001 Atlantis IV Naeco Bow 40 miles South of Beaufort Inlet 130'   Joel Moody
June 11, 2001 Atlantis IV Naeco Bow 40 miles South of Beaufort Inlet 130'   Steve Daniel, Matt Rever
June 24, 2001 Atlantis IV Naeco Stern 40 miles South of Beaufort Inlet 130'   Dennis Anacker
June 25, 2001 Atlantis IV Naeco Bow 40 miles South of Beaufort Inlet 130'   Dennis Anacker, Renate Eichinger, Bobby Edwards & other divers
June 27, 2001 Atlantis IV Naeco Bow 40 miles South of Beaufort Inlet 130' videoed by Bobby Edwards Dennis Anacker, Bobby Edwards
July 8, 2001 Atlantis IV Naeco Bow 40 miles South of Beaufort Inlet 130'   Esat Atikkan
July 15, 2001 Atlantis IV Naeco Stern 40 miles South of Beaufort Inlet 130'   Charlie & Larry Sarowitz, Bobby Edwards
July 22, 2001 Atlantis IV Naeco Stern 40 miles South of Beaufort Inlet 130'   Steve Achtner, Bobby Edwards
August 2, 2001 Atlantis IV Naeco Stern 40 miles South of Beaufort Inlet 130'   Denis Burlage
August 4, 2001 Atlantis IV Naeco Stern 40 miles South of Beaufort Inlet 130'   Esat Atikkan
August 7, 2001 Atlantis IV Naeco Bow 40 miles South of Beaufort Inlet 130'   Warren Gilman, Bobby Edwards
August 9, 2001 Captain's Lady Naeco Stern 40 miles South of Beaufort Inlet 130' Video  
August 15, 2001 Atlantis IV Atlas Tanker 18 miles East of Cape Lookout   Video/photos by Jonathan Bird, Cindy Burnham, Rick Allen, Hermann Ostermayer, Kim Elsinger, and TP Barker Renate Eichinger, Jonathan Bird, Cindy Burnham, Rick Allen, Hermann Ostermayer, Kim Elsinger, TP Barker, and Bobby Edwards
August 16, 2001 Atlantis IV Atlas Tanker 18 miles East of Cape Lookout   Video/photos by Jonathan Bird, Cindy Burnham, Rick Allen, Hermann Ostermayer, Kim Elsinger, TP Barker, and Paula Whitfield Renate Eichinger, Jonathan Bird, Cindy Burnham, Rick Allen, Hermann Ostermayer, Kim Elsinger, TP Barker, Paula Whitfield, and Bobby Edwards
August 17, 2001 Midnight Express Naeco Stern 40 miles South of Beaufort Inlet   Photos  
August 18, 2001 Atlantis IV Naeco Bow 40 miles South of Beaufort Inlet   Video by Paula Whitfield, NOAA Marine Biologist Joel Moody, Paula Whitfield
August 18, 2001  Atlantis IV Naeco Stern 40 miles South of Beaufort Inlet     Joel Moody, Mike Moore
August 2001 Diver Down Rocks 35 miles offshore 35 miles South of Beaufort Inlet   Video  
Summer 2001 Olympus Papoose & Atlas Tanker        

Lionfish becomes news in the Fayettville, NC newspaper: August 27, 2001 after a group of photographers, including Jonathan Bird, Cindy Burnham, Rick Allen, Hermann Ostermayer, Kim Elsinger and TP Barker visited the Atlas Tanker on August 15, 2001. 
Originally intending to photograph the numerous Sand Tiger Sharks which reside on the Atlas Tanker, we were all surprised to find a lionfish on the wreck as well.

Paula Whitfield, a marine biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Beaufort, and crew member on the Atlantis IV took extensive video of the lionfish on August 16 & 18, 2001 on the wrecks of the Atlas Tanker and the Naeco Bow.

As of September 6, 2001, over 14 separate lionfish had been sighted off of Morehead City, in numerous locations, ranging from rocks and wrecks South of Beaufort Inlet to the Atlas Tanker on the East side of Cape Lookout. 
As many as 5 lionfish in one location have been seen and videoed. 
While most sightings have been on the D/V Atlantis IV, reports have been documented on film/video from the D/V Diver Down, D/V Captain's Lady, D/V Olympus and D/V Midnight Express. 

October 8, 2001:
NOAA 's Weekly Report for October 8, 2001 shows official interest in the story: they will be "Studying Distribution of Lionfish"

December 2001
- Lionfish are turning up in Florida, Bermuda, and even off of Long Island, NY. Adults and Juveniles.
______________________________________________________________________________

Use these quicklinks to jump to a specific year in the Lionfish timeline:
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 top of page
  2001 detail 2002 detail   Why is this so interesting? Important safety information  

January 2002
-
The diving Magazine Immersed published an article about NC lionfish in their Winter 2001 issue.
- NOAA published a press release concerning East Coast lionfish in early January, 2002.
- A Fact Sheet from NOAA is on the internet, with Paula Whitfield's photo.
- Front page news in the Raleigh, NC paper: News and Observer, Jan. 12, 2002
- Reports in from Charleston, SC of lionfish sightings on a reef.
- Front page news in the Carteret County News-Times on Jan. 16, 2002

January 19, 2002
The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is planning an exhibit on the Lionfish, scheduled for Spring, 2002.

January 30, 2002
The New Bern/Kinston/Jacksonville papers printed an article about the lionfish after a telephone interview with Capt. Bobby Edwards. We'll upload the article in a few days.
February 2, 2002

Trish Boyer told us that the Wilmington (Delaware) News Journal had a big article in the local paper about Lionfish spotted in Long Island Sound this year, and the potential for them to be found in Delaware waters.

February 8, 2002
Larry O'Hanlon, a correspondent from Discovery Online, called for information on an upcoming news blurb for the news portion of the Discovery.com website, to be posted sometime next week.

February 12, 2002
http://dsc.discovery.com/news/briefs/20020211/lionfish.html  There it is!

A preliminary list of articles and announcements concerning the introduction of lionfish to the Atlantic.
News spread fast in early 2002, from FL to GA, SC and Delaware. We'll clean up this list soon.

http://www.jacksonvilledailynews.com/Details.cfm?StoryID=5133
The above article was written about the lionfish exhibit opening at the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.

http://www.charlotte.com/mld/observer/news/3187145.htm
http://www.nauticalnudist.com/incredible_news.htm
http://www.wilmingtonstar.com/news/stories/11761newsstorypage.html
http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/InNews/lionfish2002.html
http://www.delawareonline.com/newsjournal/local/2002/01/27lionfishcouldtu.html
http://home.ec.rr.com/divingphotos/lionfishtext.html
http://www.ecofloridamag.com/archived/news_lionfish.htm
http://www.flawildlife.org/pubs/FWN-2-02/angler.htm#angler5
http://www.cityjunction.com/stations2.cfm?SID=3150&SArea=Crystal%20Coast&SAreaName=Crys
http://www.charlestonfishing.com/issue/nl041802.html
http://www.fishorshutup.com/PRESS%20RELEASES/Venomous%20Fish%20Invade%20Florida.htm
http://www.capitalcitydiveclub.org/
http://www.businessnc.com/regional/apreeg.html
http://www.dtmag.com/05-02-Dive%20Observer.shtml
 

And they're still here: 4 lionfish were seen on the Naeco stern on May 26, 2002!

The latest 2002 News:

Naeco Stern, May 19: 2 Lionfish
Naeco stern, May 26: 4 were seen 
June 4, Lobster Wreck: 2 lionfish were seen
June 10, A reef near the Papoose
June 10, Lobster Wreck:  A small Lionfish at sand level and a larger one on the Boiler 
June 11, Lobster Wreck: 2 lionfish
June 12, on both the  Bow & Stern of the Naeco 
June 13, Naeco: the group saw 5 lion fish

June 17, Naeco Stern: 5 Lionfish, big and small
June 23: We believe there may be as many as 8 on the Naeco Stern
June 25, Naeco: again 5 lion fish

June 29/30: video was taken of a lionfish on the Keshena, near Hatteras
June 30: 2 were seen on the Lobster Wreck

In July: seen again and again on the Naeco- they're everywhere!!
But none have been seen on the Atlas yet this year.
July 21,
Rocks by the Schurtz: 12-15 Lionfish
July 21, On the Bedfordshire, a juvenile Lion Fish. 

August 2002: Divers on the Midnight Express reported a lionfish on the Hardees.
An e-mail has also come in from Puerto Rico: a diver spotted a lionfish on a reef there.
August 20, Big 10: Lionfish

Sept 4, U-352 Sub: a 2 to 2 1/2 inch Lionfish was seen
Sept 5, Schurz sighting
Sept 6, Papoose sighting
Sept 6, Hardee's wreck sighting
Sept 15, Papoose: Lionfish in the break

October, 2002: A small lionfish is on the Schurz, and a large one is on the Papoose-along the Port edge of the ship, just up from the stern.

November 2002: We received a report of Lionfish having been sighted in Honduras: 20 years ago! 
There was an interesting article about invasive species traveling in ships ballast water in the 
January 2002 National Geographic
.
We saw 5 different lionfish on some rocks SE of the Papoose today (11/9/02). One individual was 18" long!
_______


Use these quicklinks to jump to a specific year in the Lionfish timeline:
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 top of page
  2001 detail 2002 detail   Why is this so interesting? Important safety information  

May 2003:
On the Malchase in 2003, there were multiple lionfish seen this Spring. One was reported to be 18" long.
There were also some seen on the Lobster Wreck.

June 2003:
First-hand sightings have been made this year on the Proteus, Manuela, Tarpon, Naeco Stern, Lobster Wreck and rocks near the Cassimir.


2004:
10/30/04: There are lionfish on both the Proteus and the Caribe Sea. 
Water temp on the Caribe Sea was 67.

T
hey are still here, they are reproducing and spreading far & wide. 
NOAA researcher Paula Whitfield's formal field research revealed that they are everywhere, simply everywhere. 
And they eat well. 

July 2004
A black-colored lionfish was observed and photographed on the Naeco. It's body was black and the "feathers" were white.

June 2004
We just got an email last night reporting the sighting and collection of a lionfish in Shark River Inlet in Avon, NJ  last fall.


2005: more and more sightings, repetitive locations and increasing numbers. NOAA is really getting interested in this invasive species.


2006: Where aren't there lionfish now? Even the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores has a lovely exhibit of lionfish on display. Newly renovated and re-opened in May 2006.
It is stunning: a cylindrical 1200 gallon tank: try to catch it at feeding time!


2007: There is evidence of a fish which will eat lionfish. Interesting stuff!!
http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/Gallery/Descript/RedLionfish/RLionfish.html http://www.susanscott.net/OceanWatch2001/aug03-01.html


2008:
Lionfish are everywhere- sometimes like cockroaches on a wreck or ledge. 
Over the winter 2008-2009 we had some very cold water on the bottom, noticed primarily in the Cape Fear Area. One diver noticed many stunned/dead fish (presumably due to the cold) and we wonder if that might affect the lionfish population.


Use these quicklinks to jump to a specific year in the Lionfish timeline:
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 top of page
  2001 detail 2002 detail   Why is this so interesting? Important safety information  

__________________________________________________________

Why is this so interesting? 
Because the natural habitat of the Lionfish is highlighted in the image below. 

That's nowhere near the East Coast of the United States. 
So how did they get here? 
Good question- all we know for sure is that they are here.
___________________________________________________________________

____________________

Here's some important information 
we as divers should know about the Lionfish.

From the eMedicine Consumer Journal, August 1 2001, Volume 2, Number 8

DISCUSSION  

These poisonous fish live in tropical and temperate oceans, especially the Red Sea, Indian, and Pacific oceans. They have erectile spines on the dorsal, anal, and pelvic fins. Because these fish are not aggressive, contact and poisoning is primarily accidental.

Ornate lionfish produce mild poisoning. Camouflaged scorpionfish cause moderate to severe poisoning. The motionless stonefish causes severe to life-threatening poisoning.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS  

  • Intense throbbing pain peaks in 1-2 hours and lasts 12 hours.
  • Redness, bruising, swelling, numbness, tingling, and tissue sloughing at the wound site may also occur.
  • Severe reactions include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, tremors, abnormal heart rhythms, weakness, shortness of breath, seizures, decreased blood pressure, fainting, and paralysis. Death may occur.
  • TREATMENT  
  • Remove the victim from the water to prevent drowning.
  • Immerse the wound in water as hot as the victim can tolerate for 30-90 minutes. Repeat as necessary to control pain.
  • Use tweezers to remove any spines in the wound.
  • Scrub the wound with soap and water. Then flush affected area with fresh water.
  • Do not apply tape to close the wound.
  • SEEK MEDICAL ASSISTANCE  
  • All cases require medical attention to ensure no foreign material is left in the wound. Antivenom is used, especially for stonefish poisoning.

  • Use these quicklinks to jump to a specific year in the Lionfish timeline:
    2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 top of page
      2001 detail 2002 detail   Why is this so interesting? Important safety information