Great Barracuda

A close encounter with a Great Barracuda in Saba. Photo Credit: (c) 2012 Hans Leijnse — SHAPE/DCNASome of you may not know that the Great Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) is also known as the Giant Barracuda. This is because Great Barracudas can grow up to nearly two metres (~six feet) and can weigh up to 40 kilogrammes (~88 pounds). Fisherman from the Dutch Caribbean report some catches this large from years ago, but they are rare sights these days.

The Great Barracuda occurs throughout the Caribbean. They are usually solitary predators and can be seen floating above coral reefs or hanging over drop-offs. In Florida they can even be found in very shallow waters. Barracudas are classic open water hunters and use a “lie-in-wait” hunting tactic. The barracudas confuse prey with light reflection from their dorsal and ventral colour dymanics. The trick lies in a simple form of camouflage – barracudas exemplify the countershading effects in large predatory fish – blending into the darkness below when seen from above and into the light from surface illumination when seen from below.

The Great Barracuda has quite a reputation because of its curiousity and fearsome appearance – with formidable looking teeth that can make divers and snorkellers think twice about entering the water.

Fortunately attacks by Great Barracuda are very rare and most occur in mucky waters with poor visibility. Barracuda are attracted to shiny objects. This is because shiny objects can look like small silvery fishes, which of course triggers the barracuda’s hunting instinct.

Barracuda photographed from below in the Saban reef drop-off. Photo Credit: (c) 2012 Hans Leijnse — SHAPE/DCNA

As a top reef predator, the barracuda’s diet is made up mostly of a variety of fishes, but can also include species of octopuses and squids, and of course, once in a while unlucky shrimp.

While they can be found throughout the Dutch Caribbean, very large specimens occur on St. Eustatius, Saba and St. Maarten, where they are not harvested. Here they have been disregarded as a commercial fish because of the bioaccumulation of ciguatera toxin, which naturally originates from plankton and can become concentrated as it moves up the food chain.  Where present, ciguatera toxicity levels can become dangerous for human consumption in top predators like barracuda. So, luckily for the Great Barracuda they are firmly off the menu in the Windward islands of Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten.

Fish, Species in the Spotlight