Barracuda’s Bad ReputationBy Tito Rodríguez & Renata Ferrari
Barracudas, along with sharks, are positioned at the top of the ocean’s food chain, and are considered “super predators”. The barracuda in particular has always enjoyed a bad reputation, causing many divers and swimmers to keep their distance. Nevertheless, there is a lot more to these amazing creatures than sharp teeth and a bad temper.
A common piece of S.C.U.B.A. diving advice is that shiny objects should not be carried around underwater as they attract barracudas and increase the probability of an attack. However, the few registered barracuda attacks on humans have always been related to underwater hunters using bait to attract the barracuda. Frequently, SCUBA divers along reefs are followed by an attentive barracuda who observes the diver’s movements, sometimes along the entire dive, but this is attributed to the animal’s natural curiosity and no harm is done.
There is nothing in the sea as hydrodynamic as a barracuda. Equipped with sharp teeth and robust fins, this fish is able to reach vertiginous speed in short distances - ideal for surprising its prey. Differing from sharks, who search the reef for prey, the barracuda stays still for long periods of time, waiting near the surface, unseen from below due to the reflection of the sun on the surface of the water. It is here that they hone in on potential prey and attack. The black blotches on a barracuda’s stomach enlarge just a few seconds before the fatal strike, adding an extra element of stealth to the attack. Occasionally, it is possible to see a barracuda frozen in concentration between corals or plants at the bottom of the ocean, so focused on their future prey that it becomes relatively easy for a diver to approach and get close enough to even touch one. It is quite possible that due to the lack of natural predators almost all of a barracuda’s movement receptors are concentrated in the front part of its head.
Success is not always the final result. It is common to see barracuda-bitten fish that were able to escape the attack, carrying on their bodies the scar of the attack for the rest of their lives. Sometimes, when a barracuda encounters prey that it considers too big, it keeps its distance and starts violently snapping its jaws against each other, gnashing their teeth and producing a dry sound. This behavior, which could appear as a threat, is believed to be a call for other barracudas in the area to join the feast and share a meal.
Belize waters are home to many barracudas, and the Port Honduras Marine Reserve is one place a diver or snorkeler is bound to encounter one – whether intentionally or not. The average size range for the barracuda is between 50 cm and 1.80 m in length. One evening, while diving near Bimini Island in the Bahamas, a ~ 2.50 m barracuda peacefully swam amongst our group of ten divers. It moved slowly enough to carefully observe each of us, disappearing after a few tense moments into the darkness of the night, taking with it all its secrets and mysteries. http://www.tidebelize.org/BarracudasBadReputation.htm