What that fish?

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The human race is generally a bit, dare it be said, ‘uneducated’ with regards to the ocean and all that she holds. Leisure Boating will look at different ocean species every month with the aim of giving our readers a closer look at the wide range of life forms that lurk below.

One of the most exciting and sought-after game fish species in the world, the Tarpon, are divided into two separate official species, the Atlantic Tarpon (Megalops Atlanticus) and the Indo-Pacific Tarpon (Megalops Cyprinoides). It is one of the biggest species in the ocean and certainly on every serious big game angler’s bucket list.

What they look like
With brilliant silver sides and belly, Tarpon are sometimes referred to as the ‘Silver King’. Depending on its environment, the back varies in greenish/bluish shades and is often completely black. Its body is compressed with visible and distinctive lateral lines and covered with very large silver scales. The Tarpon’s eyes are quite large (their genus name, Megalops, means large-eyed) with adipose eyelids and a wide mouth with a very prominent lower jaw that juts outwards and upwards. It is known for its extremely hard and bony mouth with small and fine teeth and a throat that is covered by a bony plate – a characteristic that frustrates anglers as Tarpon would often throw the hook due to the hardness of its mouth. Its dorsal fin consists of several soft rays, the last of which is greatly elongated, almost reaching the tailfin.

They grow rather slowly and usually don’t reach maturity until they’re six or seven years old and around 1.2 metres long. However, they may reach lengths of up to 2.5 metres and the current all-tackle IGFA record is for a specimen of 129.98 kg, caught in Rubane, Guinea- Bissau in 2003.

Where to find them Atlantic Tarpon are found in the western Atlantic from Virginia to Brazil, in the Gulf of Mexico and throughout the Caribbean, as well as in the eastern Atlantic from Senegal to South Angola. Indo-Pacific Tarpon are widely spread along the eastern African coast, throughout Southeast Asia, Japan, Tahiti and Australia.

Tarpon are obligate air breathers which means they have to rise to the surface every so often in order to survive. They then use their swim bladder as a respiratory ‘pseudo-organ’ of sorts, filling it with air when they’re at the surface. Tarpon are often sighted while ‘rolling’, the method by which they fill the swim bladder with air by rolling onto their sides and gulping air at the surface. This particular ability allows them to enter virtually any body of water regardless of the oxygen levels. Those areas are also relatively free of predation and offer a convenient refuge for juveniles.

Because of this ability to survive in fresh and saltwater; brackish water of varying pH levels; and water with low oxygen content; Tarpon venture up rivers, estuaries and lagoons. They prefer temperatures of between 22 – 28°C whereas water under 5°C can be lethal to Tarpon.

Tarpon typically breed and spawn in warm, isolated offshore areas after which their habitat changes with their various developmental stages. Stage-one larvae are often found in warm, clear ocean water, close to the surface. Stage-two and -three larvae are found in salt marches, tidal pools, rivers and estuaries which tend to be warm, shallow and dark bodies of water with muddy bottoms, where they grow into juveniles. As they mature into adulthood, Tarpon may move back to the open waters of the ocean but some do hang about in freshwater habitats for the remainder of their lives.

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