Tag Archives: Barracudas

Several of a kind

I tried counting these Heller’s barracudas, but kept losing count. There are at least 20 and this is a typical view of them. They hunt at night, but during the day they rest, while cruising in close groups such as this one.

Posted in response to Becky’s October Squares challenge theme of ‘Kind.’ See more responses here.

Cleaning a barracuda

A small cleaner wrasse works at removing parasites, dead tissue and mucus from a great barracuda. The service they provide is recognized by larger potential predators, which don’t harm these little blue and yellow fish, even when they go inside the mouth to clean.

Great barracudas are generally mostly silver with black marks on the tail fins and second dorsal fins. However, some great barracudas, such as this one, have black marks on other fins and their silvery sides are mottled with darker markings.

Great barracuda

This is a photo that comes with a story. There’s a place where I often snorkel that is home to a large group of barracudas. Most of these barracudas are around a foot and a half in length, though a few are much larger than that. I’ve mentioned before how barracudas give me the willies. They have not attacked anyone in Hawaiian waters to my knowledge, but they just have a certain look about them.

On this day I had passed the barracudas’ territory closer to the shore than I usually do. I didn’t see a single one of them. On my return, I swam farther out and, at one point, saw this barracuda and a second one (the jaw of which can just be seen in the photo) coming toward me. This was a bit unnerving but they slid by to one side, which is when I took this photo.

I turned my head and saw them curl around behind me. This wasn’t unusual; I’ve often had barracudas track me as I pass. Then I noticed a couple more arrive. This was less reassuring. I kept swimming steadily because I didn’t really have any other options. There was no way I was going to outrun them. Pretty much everything in the ocean moves faster than me and that probably includes some snails and sea cucumbers. Equally, I didn’t feel like turning to face them because the possible results of doing that included some I didn’t much like.

It seemed like every time I turned my head to see where they were, another barracuda had joined the pack. There must have been eight or nine of them at one point. Luckily, I didn’t see any of the very large barracudas among them, as that would definitely have made me even more nervous.

After a while I reached a rocky islet, a place where I usually first encounter the barracudas. They were all still behind me when I got there, but soon after I passed they were gone. While I’ve seen them in many different areas, this spot does seem to mark some edge to the territory of the main group.

I swam on, looking behind from time to time, and feeling more relaxed each time I did so. At least until I looked ahead one time and saw one of the huge barracudas heading right at me. It too passed by and I didn’t see it again, but it was time for me to get out of the water.

Great barracuda being cleaned

Great barracudas give me the willies, more so than sharks or most anything else in the ocean. There’s something about their appearance and how they hang motionless in the water that I find unnerving.

A little way south of my usual snorkeling spot, there’s a concentration of these fish that always rattles me as I swim through. Most of the barracudas I see are two feet long or less, but there a few among them that are much bigger than that. When I run into them, I’m leery about pointing my camera at them in case that upsets them in any way, because they don’t look like fish that would take kindly to being upset.

On this day, I was swimming with a friend when we came upon this very large great barracuda, just hanging in the water. Turned out it was being cleaned. The little blue and yellow fish above the head of the barracuda is a cleaner wrasse. These little fish set up store in different areas and clean mucus, dead tissue and parasites off other fish, which make regular visits to take advantage of this service.

Many fish being cleaned have an aura of great contentment while it’s going on, and this barracuda also looked quite relaxed, to such an extent that I lost my trepidation about it and got a bit closer than I normally would.

The wrasse is probably around 3 inches in length which would mean this barracuda is probably around 4 feet long.

A mackerel scad school draws attention

Mackerel Scad shoal

Mackerel Scad shoal over coralMackerel scad are schooling fish, the kind that make ‘bait balls’ which end up being decimated by large predators. They’re members of the jack family, not that this does them much good. Some of those large predators are other members of the jack family such as greater amberjacks and almaco jacks.

I came across this school not far from shore. There were probably two or three hundred fish in the school and it was fun watching them twirl and circle in harmony. They encircled me, went past and I popped out the other side. It was then I noticed they weren’t alone. One the other side of the school, a medium-sized great barracuda cruised around.

The barracuda came toward me to take a look, but I was clearly less interesting than the scad and it moved away again. The barracuda can be seen in the bottom photo. See if you can spot it.

Mackerel Scad shoal and a great barracuda

Heller’s barracuda

Heller's Barracuda

I saw this group of fish one day when water conditions weren’t very good, so I was happy to get a photo as decent as this. What caught my attention were the blue stripes, pointed front with underslung jaw, and forked tail.

It was a bit tricky to identify as most photos I found, including my fish book, John P. Hoover’s The Ultimate Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fishes, Sea Turtles, Dolphins, Whales, and Seals, show only shoals of Heller’s barracudas.

Heller’s barracudas are related to great barracudas but aren’t dangerous. They hunt by night and move inshore to rest in groups like this one by day.

A truly great barracuda

A great barracuda prowls a Big Island reef.
Great barracudas are a fish I see every once in a while when I’m snorkeling. They’re generally about two feet long, with a somewhat menacing look, and a languid swimming style. They tend to keep their distance, easing away until they melt into the distance, which is fine with me since they’ve been known to attack humans.

Recently, I was snorkeling at a regular spot and approaching a shallower area where I usually find a variety of reef fish. I spotted the fish above from quite a distance. It was hanging motionless in the water. As I closed in I could see that this barracuda was huge, twice the size of any I’d seen previously in both length and girth.

I wanted to get closer for a photo, but I was also wary. Previous barracudas that I’d seen had looked capable of inflicting a nasty bite. This one looked like it could remove a limb. I snapped a few photos as the fish drifted out toward deeper water. Then it swished its tail and vanished at warp speed.

John Hoover says that great barracudas “grow to about 5½ feet, but are usually half this size in Hawaii.” I’d estimate this one was around four feet long, so a big one for these waters. (The yellow tang just behind it is probably six to eight inches long.) He also notes that “large individuals tend to increase in girth rather than length,” which was certainly true in this case.

In my attempts to identify what I see in the water, I use John P. Hoover’s book The Ultimate Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fishes, Sea Turtles, Dolphins, Whales, and Seals. His website is hawaiisfishes.com.