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"Tiger of the Sea"
(The Great Barracuda)

environmental issues One of the questions that lam frequently asked by snorkelers, divers and ocean lovers. "Is the barracuda dangerous?" When you take one look at its sleek body and toothy grin and the fact that it seems to be staring at you wondering if you are going to be its next meal, and with a nickname 'Tiger of Sea' the question is understandable.

The barracuda is an excellent hunter, dining on small fish that inhabit the reef area. This fish has evolved over 50 million years. It normally grows to a length of about 3 feet and weighs in at about 30 Ibs on the average. It can grow to 6 feet and weigh upwards to 80 Ibs. You might call the barracuda a 'cold blooded killer' as all fish are cold blood adapting to the temperature around them. In order for it to move quickly and efficiently around the coral reef it is equipped with a 'swim bladder'. This bladder keeps the fish from sinking as it is heavier than sea water. It can inflate or deflate this chamber to lower the body or rise. When you see the barracuda opening its mouth, this is not an attack sign, its merely breathing. By breathing I mean its taking oxygen from the water through its gills. Fish don't have lungs, so they rely on this method to breath. The barracuda uses the classic lie-in-wait method of hunting or ambush. They rely on surprise and speed which can top out at 27 mph and simply overrun their prey.

environmental issues Like sharks, barracudas have a long reputation for being dangerous to humans. As this fish is a scavenger, on many occasions it mistakes a snorkeler for a large predator and will follow them waiting for any remains of a prey. Obviously spearfishing would not be a good idea when in the barracudas domain. The barracuda is also attracted to shiny objects, so wearing jewelry while diving or snorkeling is not recommended. In many areas the fish is caught for food. I must caution you that the larger species have been known to have ciguatera food poisoning and it is not adviseable to eat them.

Over the years I have been in the water with literally hundreds of schooling barracudas. Normally this is a solitary fish, but in its formative stages it tends to remain in schools. I have never seen a diver threatened by this fish. Unless the barracuda is provoked it normally will keep its distance. Many divers have told me that they get "the feeling that someone is watching them" when they are in the water. This is usually the barracuda, who is also a very curious animal and tends to follow divers and swimmers noticing any strange movements. Barracudas depend heavily on their sense of sight, and are attracted by unusual color or reflection.

If you see a barracuda while swimming, do not provoke it, don't panic, don't try and touch it. Eventually he will lose interest in you and disappear. Humans are not on their menu!