Barracuda, the Tiger of the Sea – as they are known to some, are some of the most ferocious fish in the ocean with a terrifying set of teeth and blinding speed. They are known to be very aggressive and this, combined with their speed and strength, make them very popular among big game anglers throughout the world.
There are more than 20 known species of Barracuda ranging in size from 50 cm to nearly two metres in length. Despite some differences in size and perhaps colouring patterns, all Barracuda are quite similar. They have an elongated, fairly compressed body shape, pointed head with powerful jaws and prominent, fang-like teeth.
Most species of Barracuda are a variation of dark blue, green or grey dorsally, with silvery sides and a whitish belly. On some species vertical bars may be found along the entire body and on the Great Barracuda, for instance, one may find dark spots towards the tail end.
They have discernible dorsal fins that are widely separated, with the anterior fin having five spines and the posterior having one spine and nine soft rays. The fins may vary from a dusky yellow to grey. Barracuda are covered in small, smooth scales and can be rather oily to the touch.
These fish can grow quite large. An average mature Barracuda is usually between 60 – 100 cm, weighing around 2 – 9 kg. Exceptional specimens can grow as large as, and sometimes exceed, 1, 5 m and weigh over 23 kg. The largest IGFA (International Game Fish Association) recorded catch was caught in the West African country of Gabon in 2002 by Dr. Cyril Fabre and weighed in at 45.9 kg. However, a new pending world record was caught by Thomas Gibson off the coast of Angola. The Texan caught the massive 46.4 kg Barracuda in 2013 and is awaiting IGFA’s final approval.
Where to find them
Barracuda are pretty widely spread but are most commonly found in coastal areas of tropical and subtropical waters worldwide – except the East Pacific. Although they are sometimes found in the deep, they tend to prefer coastal habitats and frequent continental shelves, reefs and wrecks.
In South Africa, they are most commonly found in the waters off Kwa-Zulu Natal – north of Durban and into Mozambique.
Barracuda are voracious and opportunistic hunters, feeding on whatever happens to be in their immediate area. Their remarkable bursts of speed, which can be as fast as 43 km/h, allow them to employ the element of surprise and to overtake their prey. They primarily prey on fish, and they are able to prey on fish as big as themselves by using their impressive dentistry to tear chunks of flesh from their quarry.
It is said that Barracuda are a competitive and aggressive species and would compete against mackerel, tuna and even dolphin for prey!
Juvenile Barracuda can sometimes be seen congregating but as they mature they tend to stick to themselves and become solitary hunters. However, cases have been reported where large Barracuda have been seen hunting in packs, herding fish and picking them off in an organised fashion. The conclusion was therefore made that their hunting methods and need for schooling depends on the type of prey, conditions and area.
Their diet consists mainly of fish such as jacks, grunts, groupers, snappers, small tuna, mullet, herring and anchovies, but, being an opportunistic predator, Barracuda won’t be turning up their nose when invertebrates, crustaceans or squid are there for the taking.
Unlike most sharks which rely heavily on their smell rather than good eyesight, Barracuda makes use of their keen vision to hunt and are able to feed in any water, regardless of the visibility.
With regards to predation, Barracuda have very few threats in the ocean due to their size and speed and will only occasionally fall prey to sharks and killer whales – and humans, of course.