Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical
Great barracudas can be dangerous. This means beware, for many tourist who like to snorkel or dive in the Carribbean or in other clear waters where these fish live.
For those people who like to eat great barracudas, ciguaterra is an issue. Ciguaterra occurs more often in large fish (Grosvenor 1978). 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 (Paterson 2000). Due to the danger of poison, great barracuda meat is illegal to sell (Food and Drug Administration 2000). For more information on poisoning from Sphyraena barracuda and other tropical fish, visit the Food and Drug Administrations web site at The Seafood Product Research Center.
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 (Grosvenor 1978).
Great barracuda eat other fish. They are piscivorous 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 (Paterson 2000).
Sphyraena barracuda will feed on both bottom-dwelling species as well as species of the higher water column (Paterson 2000).
They have the narrow head-on profile and the silvery color which reduces their visibility to prey. It has been observed that great barracudas 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 (Norman 1958).
Sphyraena barracuda, commonly known as great barracuda, inhabit nearly all warm seas (Blaber 1997). They are found in the tropical regions of the Indo-Pacific, and Atlantic oceans, with an absence only from the Eastern Pacific (Lieske and Myers 1999).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 (Beebe and Tee-Van 1933).
Biogeographic Regions: indian ocean (Native ); atlantic ocean (Native ); pacific ocean (Native )
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 (Paterson 2000). 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 (Blaber 1997).
Great barracudas prefer water temperatures between 74F and 82F, although they have been found in much colder water (Paterson 2000).
Aquatic Biomes: reef ; coastal
Status: captivity: 14 years.
Sphyraena 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 (Lieske and Myers 1999).Great barracuda have a large gape (Paterson 2000). They can reach up to 2 meters in length (Grosvenor 1978). Many fisherman used to think that barracudas were closely related to pikes because of the similarity in their body form. Sphyraena barracuda has a lower jaw projecting 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 (Beebe and Tee-Van 1933). Males and females are indistinguishable to humans (Paterson 2000).
Range mass: 0 to 0 kg.
Average mass: 40 kg.
Other Physical Features: bilateral symmetry
It is still unclear about the timing and location of spawning of Sphyraena barracuda. Some research reports that they 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 (Paterson 2000).
Great barracuda do not care for their fertilized eggs. They are left to drift out into the ocean and eventually take form (Paterson 2000). 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 80mm they move to the deeper waters of adjacent reed beds. At about 300mm they will move to open waters and eventually they will move out of the estuaries completely at about 500mm in length (Blaber 1997).
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1460 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 740 days.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (External ); oviparous
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male: 730 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 1460 days.
The Great Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) is found in warm waters nearly worldwide. Slight changes in water temperature can bring subtropical fishes such as Great Barracuda northward (e.g., they may show up in numbers off southern California when water temperature increases from an average of around 15° C to 16° or 17° C). Great Barracuda, which may reach 2 m and 48 kg in size, are greenish gray above and whitish below, with many irregular small black blotches on the lower side. 18-22 diagonal dark bars are often evident on the upper side. The caudal fin is dark with white tips. There are 75-87 lateral line scales. Young fish have a dark stripe on the side, which breaks into dark squarish blotches as the fish grows. Markings differ sufficiently among individuals that they can be used to distinguish individuals in behavioral or other studies (Wilson et al. 2006). The fusiform (torpedo-shaped) body, with a large caudal (tail) fin and posteriorly positioned dorsal and anal fins, allows barracuda to capture prey with a sudden burst of speed. Young fish live in inshore seagrass beds, but adults range from inshore channels to open ocean. Although Giant Barracuda have a well-deserved reputation as fierce predators, attacks on humans are not common (and very rarely fatal) and generally involve unusual circumstances such as wading or swimming in turbid water while wearing bright objects or carrying speared fish. In at least some regions, the flesh of some barracuda, especially larger ones, is quite poisonous as a result of concentrating toxins originating from certain marine dinoflagellates farther down the food chain. (Robins and Ray 1986; Moyle 1993; Tosteson 2004)
The great barracuda is present in tropical to warm temperate waters, in subtropical parts of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans, from mangrove areas to deep reef, with a lower depth limit of 110 meters. They are reported to be declining in Florida, and the Florida fish and wildlife conservation commission are considering imposing catch limits. Humans tend to be attacked if provoked.
Great barracudas are large fish, and one of the largest of the Barracudas. Mature specimens are usually around 60–100 cm (24–39 in) in length and weigh 2.5–9.0 kg (5.5–19.8 lb). Exceptionally large specimens can exceed 1.5 m (4.9 ft) and weigh over 23 kg (51 lb). The record-sized specimen caught on rod-and-reel weighed 46.72 kg (103.0 lb) and measured 1.7 m (5.6 ft), while an even longer example measured 2 m (6.6 ft).
The Great barracuda is blue-gray above, fading to silvery and chalky-white below. Sometimes, a row of darker cross-bars occurs on its upper side, with black blotches on each lower side. The second dorsal fin and the anal and caudal fins range from dark violet to black with white tips.
In general, barracudas are elongated fish with powerful jaws. The lower jaw of the large mouth juts out beyond the upper. Barracudas possess strong, fang-like teeth that are unequal in size and set in sockets in the jaws and on the roof of the mouth. The head is quite large and is pointed and pike-like in appearance. The gill covers do not have spines and are covered with small scales. The two dorsal fins are widely separated, with the first having five spines and the second having one spine and 9 soft rays. The second dorsal fin equals the anal fin in size and is situated more or less above it. The lateral line is prominent and extends straight from head to tail. The spinous dorsal fin is situated above the pelvis. The hind end of the caudal fin is forked or concave, and it is set at the end of a stout peduncle. The pectoral fins are placed low down on the sides. The barracuda has a large swim bladder.
Barracudas appear in open seas. They are voracious predators and hunt by ambush. They rely on surprise and short bursts of speed up to 27 mph (43 km/h) to overrun their prey, sacrificing maneuverability. Barracudas are more or less solitary in their habits. Young and half-grown fish frequently congregate in shoals.
Barracudas can reach at least 14 years of age. The spawning season lasts from April to October. Females can release about 5,000 to 30,000 eggs. The diets of these top predators of reefs are composed almost totally of fish, cephalopods, and occasionally shrimp. Large barracudas, when gorged, may attempt to herd a school of prey fish in shallow water where they guard over them until they are ready for another hunt.
Barracudas are scavengers, and may mistake snorkelers for large predators, following them in hopes of eating the remains of their prey. Swimmers have been reported being bitten by barracuda, but such incidents are rare and possibly caused by poor visibility. Barracudas may mistake objects that glint and shine for prey.
Barracuda attacks on humans are rare, although bites can result in lacerations and the loss of some tissue. They are a popular target for recreational fishing, due to the strong fight they put up when hooked. However they are also known for the pungent odor they release upon being caught, and their meat has a chance of causing Ciguatera fish poisoning when eaten.