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"Tiger of the Sea"
(The Great Barracuda)
|By: LeRoy French
23 January 2009
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.
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
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!