Great Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda)

Great Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda)

An excellent gamefish, the great barracuda leads a list of marine fish that cause ciguatera when eaten, although small fish are apparently not poisonous. Not every barracuda causes ciguatera, but there is no safe or reliable way of recognizing toxic fish.

Identification

The great barracuda is long and slender, with a large, pointed head and large eyes. The dorsal fins are widely separated, and the first dorsal fin has five spines, whereas the second has 10 soft rays. In a large underslung jaw, the great barracuda has large, pointed canine teeth.

It also possesses a bluish-gray or greenish-gray body coloration above the lateral line and a silvery-white belly. A few irregular black blotches are usually scattered on the sides of the body, especially toward the tail.


The young have one dark stripe down each side, which mutates to become blotches as the fish grow. The great barracuda also occasionally has 18 to 22 diagonal dark bars above the lateral line. It grows much larger, in general, than its relative the Pacific barracuda.

Size

Known to reach a weight of 106 pounds and a length of 6.5 feet, the great barracuda averages 5 to 20 pounds in weight; larger specimens are rare. The all-tackle world record is an 85-pounder.

Life history/Behavior

Young barracuda under 3 pounds usually inhabit shallow waters, such as harbors and coastal lagoons, until they become adults and live farther offshore, sometimes far out to sea. Smaller barracuda will occasionally school, but the large ones are typically solitary. Curiosity is a trait of all barracuda, and they will follow waders or divers as a result.

Food and feeding habits

The great barracuda eats whatever is available in its habitat; needlefish, small jacks, and mullet are among the mainstays. They are attracted by shininess or flashes and movement, feeding by sight, rather than by smell.

Other Names

cuda, sea pike, giant sea pike; French: barracuda, brochet de mer; Hawaiian: kaku, kupala; Japanese: onikamasu; Portuguese: barracuda, bicuda; Spanish: barracuda, picuda.

Distribution

Great barracuda range from Massachusetts to Brazil, although not in abundance from the Carolinas northward. They are caught mainly around Florida, in the Florida Keys, in the Bahamas, and throughout the West Indies.

Habitat

Young barracuda live in inshore seagrass beds, whereas adults range from inshore channels to the open ocean. They are also found in bays, inlets, lagoons, and the shallows of mangrove islands, as well as around reefs, wrecks, piers, sandy or grassy flats, and coastal rivers where saltwater and freshwater mingle. They prefer shallow areas and appear to move inshore in the summer, and offshore in the fall and the winter.
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