Great Barracudas: Friend or Foe?
As dive professionals, we get asked all sorts of questions. Most common are questions about what we will see underwater. Everyone especially wants to know who, or what, is dangerous or not, especially about the infamous Barracuda.
People have always had an unspoken fear of the Barracuda, which is unfortunately caused by wild stories of Barracuda attacks that have, more often than not, been embellished. Barracudas are very bold and inquisitive creatures by nature, which causes divers to constantly have that unnerving feeling that Barracudas are sitting and watching them, while planning their next attack. Not to mention they can grow up to 6 feet in length, have razor-sharp teeth, and have lightning fast speed. All these only seem to fuel divers attack stories and deepen their fear of these predatory creatures.
Have I scared you enough about Barracudas yet? Well don’t worry, because most of these claims are false or very much over-exaggerated, much like that “giant fish” you caught one day, but seem to have forgotten to get a picture of it... Here are some facts and myths to help debunk your fear of the Barracuda.
Barracudas Frequently Attack Humans. This has to be one of the biggest fallacies regarding Barracudas. There have only been 25 reported attacks on humans in the last century. That’s about one every 4 years, which when compared to other predatory fish in the water, is extremely negligible. When attacks have been reported, they are often severe lacerations. This has brought scientists to believe that they are not really attacks to begin with, but caused by provocation, which triggers the Barracudas natural defenses. Most of these stories come from spear fishers that deny the Barracuda from taking their catch, or just for a diver provoking the fish, which will in –turn cause it to want to defend itself.
Barracudas Attack People That Carry Shiny Objects. Yes, it is true that Barracudas do feed on shiny fish like Jacks, Grunts, small Tunas, and other small shiny fish. This causes divers to be weary of wearing watches and jewelry and even SCUBA gear that has a little shine to it like your regulator or dive computer. In fact, you have a greater chance of losing your rings due to the slight compression of your hands while diving, causing the ring to slip off, than to be attached by a Barracuda because of its “shininess.” Scientists have even done studies trying to disprove this myth by dangling shiny objects in front of Barracudas to see if they will attack. The Barracudas seldom even approached the object when a diver is in its vicinity.
Barracudas Are Poisonous To Eat. Not true. Although it is not recommended to eat Barracuda, they are not poisonous themselves. But, like consuming any other tropical reef fish, there is the possibility of Ciguatera Poisoning. This is caused by certain plankton that produce the poison, which are later consumed by fish, which is later consumed by Barracudas. However, it is just safer to avoid eating Barracudas, especially larger ones, as there is no way to easily test the toxicity of the fish. Unfortunately, with the increase in the volume of pollution we humans add to the ocean, the concentration of the poison has escalated thru the food chain, which means that larger reef fish and their predators carry a higher percentage of the toxin than before.
So, now rather than being intimidated by these curious and beautiful fish, you have an opportunity to share your new-found knowledge and help dispel these common myths about Barracudas. In fact, like most creatures in the big beautiful underwater world, we humans are far more dangerous to them that they are to us.