Blue Zoo: Barracuda

Featuring one amazing marine animal per week.

The barracuda (genus Sphyraena) is a fierce predator with an appetite for coral reef fish.

Barracuda species can be found in nearly all tropical and warm temperate seas, especially in and around coral reefs. They can be found in schools, but larger ones tend to be solitary.

Photo by Laban712 via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

Barracudas tend to be silver in color, and have a long body shape. They have big mouths and sharp teeth, and can be extremely fast swimmers over short distances. Some species, like the great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda), can grow over 6 feet long, although this is rare and most of them are much smaller. When hunting, they usually lie in wait for prey to swim near them, then chase it down.

Barracudas have a reputation as dangerous and aggressive fish. In Finding Nemo, it was a barracuda that attacked Marlin and his wife Coral at the beginning of the movie. While they are voracious predators who are skilled at attacking prey fish, they usually aren’t interested in attacking divers.

Photo by Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.  

Most barracuda attacks on people are actually self-defense or a retaliation against a perceived threat. They can also be the result of a mistake – such as thinking that sparkly jewelry is a tasty fish snack, or mistaking fingers for food when people feed them. If you’re swimming with barracuda, it’s best not to bother or feed them and to leave your jewelry on shore. Then you are unlikely to run into any problems.

Photo by Jenny Huang via Flickr, Creative Commons License.

In some parts of the world, barracuda are fished and eaten by humans, but this should be done with caution. Although no species of barracuda is thought to be endangered, barracuda meat has been linked to a dangerous type of food poisoning called ciguatera. Sometimes, another type of fish, wahoo, is also served under the common name barracuda; it is listed by the Seafood Watch as a “Good Alternative” seafood because the population is thought to be stable but it is caught by longlining, which can damage the ecosystem by causing high levels of bycatch.

Photo by Marc Tarlock via Flickr, Creative Commons License.

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