Great Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda)
Order: Perciformes, Family: Sphyraenidae
The great barracuda inhabits nearly all warm seas. They are found in the tropical regions of the Indo-Pacific and Atlantic oceans, with an absence only from the eastern Pacific. They have been found in the Red Sea and as far as the Bermudas in the western Atlantic. They have been seen as far north as Massachusetts.
I. GEOGRAPHIC RANGE
II. PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS
- The great barracuda inhabits nearly all warm seas. They are found in the tropical regions of the Indo-Pacific and Atlantic oceans, with an absence only from the eastern Pacific. They have been found in the Red Sea and as far as the Bermudas in the western Atlantic. They have been seen as far north as Massachusetts.
III. FOOD HABITS
- Mass: 40 kg, on average.
- The great barracuda is a long silvery fish with two widely separate dorsal fins, characteristic of its family, Sphyraenidae. They have large scales and a pointed head with a large mouth and long knife-like teeth. Great barracuda have a large gape. They can reach up to 2 meters in length. Many fishermen used to think that barracudas were closely related to pikes because of the similarity in their body form. The great barracuda has a projecting lower jaw, which is helpful in biting.
- They are a grayish brown above and silvery below which is quite universal throughout their geographic range. They often have dark ink-like spots that are arranged in no pattern on their sides.
- The young have dark crossbars on their backs and blotches on their sides. The young also have a soft dorsal fin and the anal and caudal fins can be blackish.
- Males and females are indistinguishable to humans.
- Great barracuda eat other fish. They are piscivorous, or fish eating, at all ages. Their large teeth are quite useful for this purpose. They have a large gape, which allows them to feed on very large fish by chopping them in half.
- They eat what they can catch using their combination of a sit-in-wait and active predator style.
- As juveniles, these fish compete with needlefishes and small snapper for food. This consists of killifishes, herrings, sardines, gobies, silversides, anchovies, small mullets and lizardfishes to name a few. As the fish get older and bigger, they may compete with larger fish like mackerel, or even dolphins, depending on their habitat.
- Great barracuda will feed on both bottom-dwelling species as well as species of the higher water column.
- Their narrow, head-on profile and silvery color reduces their visibility to prey. It has been observed that great barracuda herd schools of fish into shallow water and guard them. They will do this until their last meal has been digested and they are hungry again.
- It is still unclear when and where great barracuda spawn. According to some research reports, great barracuda spawn in the spring. Others claim that they spawn in association with particular phases of the moon. Still others claim that great barracudas spawn throughout the year with the exception of the winter months when it is cooler. It may be that great barracudas show different spawning patterns in different areas of the world. Overall, the picture of spawning patterns in great barracudas is incomplete.
- Great barracuda do not care for their fertilized eggs. They are left to drift out into the ocean and eventually take form.
- When the fish spawn they enter shallow waters such as estuaries. The larvae hatches and seeks shallow weedy areas on the margins of clear-water estuaries. When the larvae reach a length of about 80 mm they move to the deeper waters of adjacent reed beds. At about 300 mm they will move to open waters and eventually they will move out of the estuaries completely at about 500 mm in length.
- The great barracuda is often a solitary fish as an adult, especially at night. Juveniles and adults can be observed traveling in schools during the day. Other behavior has been observed, such as schools of adult great barracuda hunting for food together or protecting each other from predation. Groups of hundreds and even thousands of great barracudas have been observed. This, however, is rarely seen.
- They are known as vicious fish. They have been known to attack divers and are capable of inflicting severe wounds. They kill compulsively and will destroy more than they eat. Most often, great barracudas attack only when provoked.
VII. ECONOMIC IMPORTANCE FOR HUMANS
- Adult great barracudas live in and around the edges of coral reefs. They tend to avoid brackish water unless they are getting ready to spawn. Post-larvae live on the margins and in the estuaries where they are protected. When they get large enough to protect themselves, they will move out into the open ocean and then to the margins of the coral reefs. These barracudas occur in clear water.
- Great barracudas prefer water temperatures between 74 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit, although they have been found in much colder water.
Great barracuda meat is tasty for some people. Very little barracuda meat is eaten in the United States, and few people like to fish them. But, for those who do, they are found to be great game fighters on light tackle.
Great barracudas can be dangerous. This means "beware" for many tourists who like to snorkel or dive in the Caribbean or in other clear waters where these fish live.
For those people who like to eat great barracudas, ciguatera is an issue. Ciguatera occurs more often in large fish. It is a debilitating illness that can result in some severe physiological changes, sometimes even death. Ciguatoxin is ingested when eating tropical and subtropical fish. Some species are more likely to be dangerous than others. Due to the danger of poison, great barracuda meat is illegal to sell.