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Nature Notes: Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda)

17 July 2023


Barracudas are muscular fish with streamlined, torpedo-shaped bodies. The largest species, the great barracuda, can grow up to 3 m (10 ft) in length. Females are typically larger than males.

They have fang-like, razor-sharp teeth. Some of the teeth are pointed backwards to prevent slippery fish from escaping once they are seized.

Hanging near temperate and tropical waters, this species preys on much smaller fish, such as mullets, anchovies, and grunts. They are esteemed as sport fishes. However, the smaller forms are also valued as food.

Ingesting barracuda is considerably more harmful to humans than eating any other fish species. People often become ill from ciguatera fish poisoning after ingesting barracudas, perhaps because the reef fish that barracudas eat themselves consume algae that may contain high levels of the toxin produced by marine microalgae called Gambierdiscus toxicus. Symptoms of Ciguatera poisoning involve vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pains and nausea.

Great barracudas can be spotted around Ascension’s coast. They are territorial fish so the same individuals can be spotted again and again, patrolling their environment.  Attacks on humans are very rare, but they have been known to follow divers and snorkelers and may charge if you get too close. They are also reportedly attracted to shiny reflective items, such as earrings and necklaces so wearing jewellery should be avoided in their habitat.

Barracuda - Lorna West