The last time I was in Belize I was able to get some photos of Atlantic tarpon, but I was free-diving and using film gear, so I was able to get much better shots this time since I was scuba-diving and using a housed digital SLR camera.
They can reach 8 feet in length and weigh 350 pounds. The name Megalops atlanticus means "Atlantic big eyes", and this species is also noted for its very large scales, measuring up to an inch across.
Although they look like regular fish, tarpons are actually related to eels. They can move into fresh water and breathe air in oxygen-poor water, using their swim bladder to extract oxygen from it. Juvenile fish actually die if they don't gulp air, and even as adults they continue this behavior. When they're agitated they also use their swim bladder to make sound, perhaps to communicate with others of their kind. They live a long time, specimens 55 years old have been caught, and a large female can produce 12 million eggs at one time. Their newly hatched young look just like baby eels, which are called elvers.
Tarpon are called The Silver King by fishermen and are greatly prized for their fighting abilities, frequently jumping out of the water as they try to escape. They're not much use for eating because they're very bony so they're mostly released after they're caught. There have been reports of recreational anglers being killed after catching a large tarpon and having it thrash around inside the boat. In spite of their size, adult tarpon are preyed upon by sharks, porpoises and alligators. They gather together in large schools of up to 200 individuals, and smaller groups often congregate in fairly shallow water, appearing in the same spot for years at a time.
Photograph by Richard Seaman
Click here to comment on this picture.