BARRACUDA ATTACK

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THE INCIDENT

The Barracuda that ate my finger and side of my hand, a year later. Photo sent by E. R. Gammill on August 9 2005. He independently described the barracuda as 5 feet or a bit more long, and uncomfortably aggressive, seemingly expecting food.

The Barracuda that ate my finger and side of my hand, a year later. Photo sent by E. R. Gammill on August 9 2005. He independently described the barracuda as 5 feet or a bit more long, and uncomfortably aggressive, seemingly expecting food.

Barracuda attacks on humans, including completely unprovoked ones, are far more common than recognized. After an unprovoked barracuda attack amputated my left little finger and the side of my hand in Cozumel, DAN saved my life. No diver should be without DAN coverage!

I was on a dive boat in Cozumel run by one of the largest and oldest dive shops there. I’m not identifying them at the request of the owner, who does not want bad publicity driving off business. Although he had no blame whatsoever for the incident, he proved to be a real friend in need and his staff’s immediate action wrapping the wound and getting me immediately to shore saved me from much worse consequences. It was August 6, 2004. I had just done a deep dive filming the ecology of the Palancar wall with my long time Panamanian colleague Gabriel Despaigne and we were on one hour surface interval in waters about 20 feet deep at San Francisco. My 13 year old daughter, Marina, who was about to do her open water qualifying dive just after the surface interval, wanted to snorkel beforehand, so we jumped right into the water to see the shallow reef from above while everyone else had lunch.

We soon saw a very large barracuda, 5-6 feet long, lying on the bottom. We stayed above it for about 10 minutes watching it. It never moved, but was certainly aware of us. What was really unusual about this barracuda, other than its size, was that the back was a very distinctive and unusual pale creamy yellow color, something I had never seen before. I’ve since made many enquiries and while some juvenile barracuda, especially populations in the Gulf of Thailand, have yellow tailfins, no one has ever reported an adult with yellow coloration. Jack Randall, the world’s top expert on coral reef fish and an old family friend, said he had never seen or heard of one. This barracuda did not even twitch, and after a while we go bored and headed on to see more of the reef.

I noticed that my daughter had drifted about 10 or 15 feet away, and started to swim towards her. At that point there was stunning blow to my hand, but I never saw what hit me. It struck me that I must have hit a boat with my hand even though there was none near by, as the dive boat had drifted away while we were watching the barracuda. I lifted my hand out of the water and blood was pouring from it. My daughter said it was the barracuda that had attacked me. We began yelling as loud as we could, but the boat was about a quarter of a mile away; everybody was having lunch, and it took a long time- seemingly forever, before they took notice. I was afraid that the blood in the water would attract another attack and held my hand as high out of the water as I could. I never saw the finger again and imagine the barracuda ate it or spat it out when it turned out not to be fishy enough.

I never saw the attack, but Marina, who was facing me saw the entire thing. She said that the barracuda charged me from the bottom with its mouth open and that we both disappeared in a cloud of bubbles. She saw the barracuda charge me two more times in very rapid succession, each time seeing me vanish in cloud of bubbles, but I am certain that it only bit me once. She thought that the barracuda seemed to pass right through me and was sure I was dead. I don’t think anyone else in the world has ever witnessed such an attack on a human. Barracudas often have a stereotypical triple strike behavior. People seeing barracudas attack fish often see the barracuda first bite right through the middle of large fish, then lunge twice more to gobble down the head and tail. So perhaps the three strikes Marina saw was just pure instinct.

THE AFTERMATH

It was only when I was on the boat that I realized that it was not just a bite wound, my little finger and the side of my hand were completely gone, and the bone stuck out of raw flesh. It barely hurt, perhaps because barracuda teeth are so sharp that they deliver very clean cuts. My daughter was crying because the wound looked so ugly and she realized I would be handicapped for the rest of my life. I tried to console her as the crew bandaged my hand, saying it was nothing, just one of those things and I would be fine.

The dive boat, having a full load of paying customers for the next dive, arranged for me to be taken to shore by a small boat, where my daughter and I walked to the road and had to hitch hike to get to town. The dive shop gave me the directions to the DAN Center in Cozumel. The DAN emergency staff member on duty immediately recognized me; I had dived with him years before and advised him on possible research topics for pursuing an advanced degree in marine biology. I was in the hands of trusted friends who did all they could.

They immediately got to me to the emergency room where they injected me with a local anesthetic, pulled off the bandage, and very carefully cleaned the wound and sterilized it with hydrogen peroxide. I had to spend that night in the hospital on intravenous antibiotics, and by dawn the next morning DAN had sent a special plane with trained staff to evacuate me (and my daughter) to Miami for surgery.

The surgeon came quickly to inspect the wound. He was Dr. Eduardo Gonzalez-Hernandez, a Mexican, from the Miami Hand Center, whom I can unreservedly recommend. He immediately opened the bandages, expecting that the wound had become infected and that he would have to do an operation first just to clean the wound out before he could get down to surgery. But to his astonishment the DAN doctors in Cozumel had done such a great job and DAN had evacuated me so quickly that the wound was completely sterile. However, a very tricky and unusual operation followed. My little finger was gone and I had come within about a millimeter of losing the next finger as well. By an astonishing stroke of luck the bite had just missed the tendon so I was able to move all remaining fingers as normally as possible in the circumstances. But cuts from the outer teeth (Barracudas have a couple rows of teeth) running the whole length of that finger showed that had it gotten me an inch or so further over I would have lost all my fingers. The nerve to that finger had been severed, so I had lost all feeling of touch in that finger, but it gradually recovered over the following years as the nerves re-grew.

The surgery involved several steps. First he cut out a piece of skin from my left forearm large enough to cover the wound on the hand, and then tunneled this skin with all the nerves and blood vessels attached underneath the skin to site. This was done so that it would heal as fast as possible. This operation is so rare that my surgeon wanted to write an article on it in a surgical journal, and while I was undergoing physical therapy at Mass General Hospital they would bring surgical students doing rounds over to look at my hand, because they had never seen an operation like that. He then cut a piece of skin off my left thigh and used that to cover the skin removed from my forearm. So now I have a patch of brown skin with hair on my palm, and my thigh skin is on my forearm, so I’m built upside down! But I have full use of the hand, and most people don’t even notice that I’m digitally impaired.

I was exceptionally lucky for giving a barracuda the finger: I healed completely and suffered no real trauma from the attack other than lost work time from being a hospital patient for the first time in my life. I got right back to work as quickly as possible, and saw barracudas on my next dive in Cozumel as soon as I could get back into the water to complete the aborted project. Despite losing a finger, my typing speed is as fast as always, to my surprise.

But my poor daughter suffered for years, blaming herself for the accident (she felt we would not have gone snorkeling in the surface interval if she had not specifically asked to). Although she missed her certification dive (she has since completed it), she is now getting degrees in Environmental Science from a top university (Brandeis), setting up chemical management programs in New England schools with the US Environmental Protection Agency, and has set up children’s education programs to bring masks, fins and snorkels to very poor fishing communities in Panama and the Philippines where the kids swim like fish but are too poor to have masks and see and learn about what surrounds them. It is important to realize that the worst psychological impacts are not necessarily to those actually injured!

What of the barracuda who attacked me? This barracuda is very well known to local divers, as it has frequented the same nearby reefs for many years. Photos of it sent to me a couple years later by a colleague working on sponges do not show any yellow color on its back. This barracuda has a long history of being menacing or aggressive towards divers. One friend of mine, a Mexican dive operator in Cozumel who must remain anonymous for reasons explained below, told me that he was once diving with a customer, an underwater photographer from New York, and the same barracuda twice swam at her for no reason (she was lying still on the bottom composing macro shots) and butted her full force with his head, but luckily with his mouth closed, so he caused a bruise, not a cut. I have never heard of such behavior described elsewhere.

After the incident the local divers joked that this barracuda had a signed contract on me from the Cozumel Marine Park. I first came to Cozumel in the late 90s with photos of the reef from 1968, and sought out the oldest divers, who were in the photos I brought back. they could identify every location, even if mislabeled on the captions, and tell me which of the corals, sponges, and gorgonians shown were still alive. I have the world’s largest collection of coral reef photos from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s (my grandfather and father were pretty much the only people in the world doing that in those days), so documenting long term change in coral reefs is one of my specialties. As a result the local divers asked me to explain to them why their reefs were deteriorating.

About a year before the barracuda attack the local divers complained that some reefs were being smothered with algae for the first time. I know the nutrient ecology of the coral reef algae very well from a lifetime of observations, and am one of the few people who knows how to read their spatial distribution and abundance to pinpoint nutrient sources. I was very quickly able to find the source of the nutrients as coming from a captive dolphin pen inside the marine park. Masses of algae typical of sewage outfalls covered the down current side of the enclosure, and were killing coral reefs up to a kilometer down current, but were completely absent from areas just up-current of the dolphin enclosure. I made a documentary film showing the impacts there, at another dolphinarium in Isla Mujeres, Mexico, and at the Turtle Farm in Grand Cayman, to point out that if such small and local sources could produce such impacts, that of human sewage was vastly worse. You can see the film at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDT_q1LwGmA

The response of the Marine Park was immediate. It seemed that they preferred to “shoot the messenger” and would rather protect coral killers than protect corals. They denied there was any problem, told the press that I knew nothing about corals or algae or water quality (all issues on which I have many scientific publications) and that I was some sort of trouble maker trying to destroy their tourist industry. The head of the Cancun Isla Mujeres National Marine Park told me that I was not allowed to discuss my observations as this was “a political matter, not a scientific one”. When I insisted that there was a real problem that needed to be addressed, they cancelled all my projects restoring coral reefs in the marine parks that had run for around 7 years.

But far from merely joking about the barracuda having a contract from the Marine Park, I later learned that the local divers actually blamed the Marine Park for the attack itself. It is against Mexican Federal law to feed any animals in the Marine Parks, however local divers said that the management of the Marine Park would habitually take important visitors out in boats to this site and throw meat to the very same barracuda that attacked me, in order to impress their guests. That is to say, this is a barracuda that had been habituated to food handouts from the very people supposed to prevent that from happening. But they all said that if they were asked they would be forced to lie, because if they told the truth they would immediately lose their licenses to operate. As a side note, many or most of the dolphins had been imported from the Solomon Islands, in clear violation of another Mexican Federal law banning the introduction of any exotic species into National Marine Parks. But these laws were ignored because of the large revenues the marine parks get from licensing their waters to captive dolphin operators.

DISCUSSION

Every shark attack makes headline news around the world, but no barracuda attack ever does, largely because they are widely claimed never to happen. Mine did not even make the local newspapers in Cozumel, despite the fact that they are desperate for anything to publish, and the word of what had happened immediately circulated through all the many dive shops in what is the world’s number one dive destination.

I have swum with barracudas all my life (I’ve been swimming in reefs all over the world since I could walk and have dived with tanks for 54 years). I have never been afraid of them, and until my own attack I was one of those who adamantly maintained that there were no known unprovoked barracuda attacks. When I was a small boy in Jamaica they were much more abundant than now (people systematically over-fish them even though they it gives them ciguatera), and they would swim with my brothers and me almost every time we snorkeled in the reef. I’ve always known that there could be no protection against them if they chose to attack you. When they go after a fish there is just a flash and a whirring noise because they move so fast you can’t actually see the attack, just the remnants of the fish head and tail floating afterwards and a barracuda gulping the center part down. They would swim alongside me, maintaining a fixed distance. If you stopped, they stopped. What I always found amazing is that one would be swimming along on one side of you, there would be a sudden flash, the barracuda instantly vanished, and suddenly it was swimming along at the same distance on the OTHER side of you! Sometimes they would do this several times, as if for fun or just to let you know that you had no hope whatsoever of avoiding them if they wanted to get you. But they never did, so I respected them and never tried to menace or provoke them.

After my attack I received close to a hundred personal descriptions of unprovoked attacks and near attacks by barracudas. Almost all of these were on a computer that was fried when a power transformer in my neighborhood exploded, and although I paid a fortune to save data on the hard drive, these are on a pile of discs that I am not sure I can access. These do not include attacks on spearfishermen, who are hundreds of times more likely to be attacked by barracudas (or sharks) going after their catch on the end of their spear, or that they are holding in their hand, or towing on a string. Or people who spear barracudas and miss them or make a glancing blow, and it turns on them. One spearfisherman I know in Port Antonio, Jamaica, named Georgie, was bitten three times by barracudas in separate incidents, but he was holding a dying fish every time. I have never even tried to kill a fish in my life; I prefer to watch them alive underwater.

Nor does the other usual “explanation”, glittery jewelry or watches, apply in my case. I have never had a piece of jewelry in my life, and my watch was entirely black, with the scratched glass face pointing upward. I have had many descriptions sent to me of people who were bitten around glittery necklaces, bracelets, finger rings, and mask reflections, or of barracudas that charged these objects and suddenly stopped just short of biting, sometimes only an inch or so away. I personally know two people, one a hotel employee in the Maldives, and the other a submarine engineer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who jumped in the water and were immediately bitten by barracudas. Perhaps it was the splash and light reflecting off the bubbles. The WHOI Engineer, who is nameless here to preserve his dignity, jumped straight back into the boat with a tiny foot long barracuda hanging from his butt, and still has the hole to prove it, but is reluctant to show it!

My late colleague, Don de Sylva, wrote the only book ever written on barracudas, Systematics and Life History of the Great Barracuda, published in 1970. Don told me that he had looked hard, but never heard of a case of an “unprovoked” attack, that is to say one without an “obvious” possible cause, usually spearfishermen or people swimming with glittery personal ornaments, splashing at the surface, in turbid water, or when it was almost dark. In his book chapter on barracuda attacks he lists only 29 attacks, going back to the 1600s, many or most of them told to him by his fishing buddies in Florida and the Bahamas. It is clear from the reports I have gotten that this is a severe underestimate, and that they are far more frequent than realized. See our presentation at the 2005 Association of Marine Laboratories of the Caribbean Conference in Curacao:

http://globalcoral.org/BARRACUDA ATTACK.pdf

There is no doubt that diver’s behavior can provoke attacks. One old friend of mine from Jamaica, Phillip Motta, is a leading academic expert on reef fish behavior. He told me that he was once wiggling his fingers with his palm facing forward, and a barracuda got very excited and prepared to charge him until he realized. The barracuda attack victim just before me, Paul Herring (no kidding, but he’s no shiny little fish!) was diving at night in the Bay Islands when the group was taking a safety stop on the bottom, grouped in a circle. A large barracuda seemed fascinated by the dive master’s light shining on it, and starting getting very agitated, so the dive master switched it off. Immediately the barracuda attacked Paul’s mask face on. It was unable to bite through the glass of the mask, but it knocked him unconscious and severed arteries in his nose and forehead, although he was fortunate to be saved by his buddies, and was lucky also to have DAN coverage, but the front of his face was pushed in by the impact and he needed many operations to recover.

The most horrifying barracuda attack story I’ve heard was on such good authority that it bears repetition. It was told to me by the Dive Master at the College of the Virgin Islands Marine Laboratory. He had taken a DAN course on decompression chamber operations in St. Thomas, and the lecturers had included a standard lecture on dangerous marine organisms. They had shown photos of the usual known possible hazards like sharks, sting rays, moray eels, fire worms, long spined black sea urchins, etc., and ended with a barracuda. Then they said that the last one was just a joke to see if people were awake, there was not a single known case of an unprovoked barracuda attack, so this was not a real problem at all! At that point a medical doctor taking the course raised his hand, and excuse me, that isn’t really correct”. He then described an incident some years before in which two divers had traditionally dived at the same location every week, and would bring food to feed a large friendly barracuda that frequented the site. One day they dived at the usual location in their usual dive suits, and their finny friend was waiting for his handout, but they had forgotten to bring it. The first diver held his empty palms in front of him to indicate, “sorry big boy, no food for you today”. The barracuda bit both of his hands off. The second diver hugged his hands under his armpits to protect himself, and the barracuda bit and savaged both of his forearms so that they “looked like meat that had been through a grinder”. The person telling this story to the class ended by saying that “I was the physician who had treated them both afterwards”.

CONCLUSIONS

What is the lesson from all of this? Other than recommending all divers to keep their DAN coverage, I’m not really sure, in that we really have no way to predict if and when an attack will take place, only a number of possible correlative factors that may, or may not, have really been causes. Don de Sylva’s advice 40 years ago, not to swim in murky water under poor light conditions, splashing around while wearing flashy jewelry, seems the best we can do. Spearfishermen should be aware of the possibility of attack, and that the risk is their own choice. But we should NOT automatically assume that barracudas never attack without provocation, and treat them with respect. Avoidance may be the best advice, but many people do go right up to them with the traditional “knowledge” that they are harmless. The (nameless) owner of the dive boat I was diving off in Cozumel described to me in the hospital that night an incident in his early days when a Canadian diver went over the side and jumped right back out saying “There’s a huge barracuda down there!” The dive master immediately picked him up and threw him over the OTHER side of the boat, yelling “Barracudas NEVER attack people”. What makes it so unpredictable is the seeming randomness of these incidents. People swim with barracudas all the time and are not attacked. I have watched one fellow swim rapid laps in Cozumel regularly right above a large barracuda, and it ignores him totally. I am the only person known to have been attacked in Cozumel, even though, as the world’s top dive destination, the waters are full of people splashing away at all hours, with shiny jewelry on their fingers, necks, wrists, toes, ankles, navels, and other body parts, and have never been attacked, while I, with none of those attractions, was……

Thomas J. Goreau, PhD, is the president or the Global Coral Reef Alliance

A non-profit organization for protection and sustainable management of coral reefs

Coral Reef Alliance, 37 Pleasant Street, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA

Telephone:    617-864-4226

E-mail:            goreau@bestweb.net                      Web site: http://www.globalcoral.org

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70 comments for “BARRACUDA ATTACK

  1. January 13, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    I have been diving and snorkeling for a little over 50 years. I have dived and snorkeled off the coast of Southern California, in the Truk (now Chuuk) Lagoon, Hawaii (various sites), Belize, the Bay of Honduras, the Florida Keys and in several locations in the Caribbean. All this time I have carried a monster knife strapped to my leg which I used decades ago to pry abalone loose and measure them. I have seen a great many barracudas and been comfortable being in the water with them.
    On Dec. 27, 2012 While snorkeling in St. Kits along the rocky side of Whitehouse Bay with my wife, youngest daughter and her husband, I pulled that Godzilla killer knife out for the first time as a defensive measure after being stalked by a great Barracuda for several minutes. As barracudas go he wasn’t a really big guy, maybe a little under three feet, but I thought I would not care to have even a small piece of me removed.
    I motioned for my family members to move to shore to reduce the number of possible targets. While my daughter hung fairly close on some rocks the others swam away. The extremely curious barracuda stayed with me for 25 minutes even though I was trying to back off while keeping my eye on him. At times he was below me, at times beside me at a distance of maybe six or so feet, and two times he presented his nasty looking canines to me at a distance of perhaps three feet. I was using my son-in-law’s video camera which I kept in my left hand between me and my not so welcome buddy. In my right hand I had the T Rex killer. I knew he could strike with lightning speed so my hope was if he decided to attack he would eat the camera (not mine anyway) or try to chomp down on the seven inch blade (good luck with that). He eventually decided to move on, and my daughter and I swam to shore with very frequent backward looks to make sure we were traveling unaccompanied.

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  2. January 14, 2013 at 8:59 am

    Barracuda are commonly very curious just like this, but they are almost never aggressive to swimmers. I have had them swimming alongside me like this all of my life since I was a small boy in Jamaica, and I was always aware that they could bite me at will, but never did so, and so never worried about it. But there are rare circumstances in which they will strike, normally fishermen who have speared them and missed or who are carrying dead or dying fish in their hands. Why i was attacked makes no sense, as I had nothing bright on me at all. This leads me more to be cautious because they can be unpredictable, as everyone should be (but I don’t carry a knife, .I’m more likely to hurt myself than the wildlife), but the behavior you describe seems more normal curiosity than aggression

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  3. Lolo Tsung
    February 20, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    I was attacked twice by a barracuda at Deadman’s Reef in the Bahamas in about 5 feet of water snorkelling. I was enjoying the explosion of life and color typical of a coral reef. I am an experienced diver and wear no jewelry all. My equipment is black or painted black (my scuba instructor told me to do this because of barracudas) and I do not spearfish. I have seen large schools of barracuda, small groups of barracuda, and large solitary barracuda. This is the first time one has tried to attack me. The barracuda was about 5 feet long and it was about 50 feet away. It turned 90 degrees and attacked from the shoreline side I stuck my flippers upright in front of me. The flippers were used because I thought a missing toe(s) was better than a missing finger(s). I was peaking around my flipper wall in case it decide to swim around my flippers and bite other parts of my body or in case it smashed through my flippers. If the barracuda swam around or smashed through plan B was to dodge and stay away from the teeth. Note that all this planning was done in about 1 second. I was in a sitting position legs stretched in front and arms moving to keep me floating in position. It approached extremely fast. I saw was a small oval grow into a big oval and then we were looking at each other. It stopped about a foot away from my flipper wall. It swam off along the shoreline far enough so I couldn’t see it anymore. I waited just in case the barracuda decided to attack again and saw it attacking parallel to the shoreline a few minutes later. I put up my flipper wall again and it stopped about a foot away from my flipper wall. It swam off towards the deeper water. I waited but it never returned. Loved reading your story.

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  4. February 20, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    Dear Lolo,

    I have heard many reports like yours, of barracudas lunging at people and stopping just short, sometimes only centimeters away. I’m relieved you came to no harm.

    Best wishes,
    Tom

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  5. Heather B.
    April 13, 2013 at 5:42 am

    Just returned from a snorkeling trip in Al Lith in Saudi Arabia. I can relate to the Canadian in your story. He’s a smart fellow, as far as I’m concerned. I am also Canadian and did virtually the same thing just yesterday! Thank goodness no one decided to throw me back in.

    It is amazing that you can know without a doubt that they are aware of you. When this one turned directly toward me, I just had to get out of the water. There was no denying that urge.

    Your post was very educational and I will be much more informed for future snorkeling trips.

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  6. Wendy
    April 15, 2013 at 11:33 am

    My husband and I just returned from Grand Cayman, while doing the rum point snorkel float we twice were followed closely by an enormous barracuda. I am not afraid of barracudas but this one was not a normal size. I realize he was curious and could of taken us both out in a second. My husband does not exaggerate and even he says the thing had to be at least 5 ft long, the pictures I’ve seen are no where close to the size of this thing. The frightening thing was not being able to get rid of him, maybe he was interested in our divers flag.

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  7. DarKPenguiN
    May 1, 2013 at 7:57 am

    -Cool story.

    I have never been to the Ocean and it frightens me immensely to think about swimming anywhere where I am not the ‘top’ of the foodchain and things ‘lurk’ underneath me. =P
    -I understand the ‘statistics’ and ‘millions of people’ and ‘safer than snowboarding. I understand this. But things are not attacking me while snowboarding.

    Anyhow, I came across your blog somehow and thought it was informative and pretty crazy. I was always told barracuda were ‘safe’-Evidently not. But I have learned never to trust a fish with teeth.

    I live on an inland lake and a few years back there was a Pike that attacked someone (unprovoked)and bit a pretty good chunk put of the neighbor (who went to the hospital). I have grown up and been around freshwater for my entire life and am an avid fishermen and swimmer and had never heard anything like this, thought the lakes around here were 100% ‘killer fish’ free and would have laughed at someone if they told me a Pike attacked them- But it did. I saw it (I didnt see the attack- I saw the aftermath) and it was documented by medical records.

    -Thanks for a blog I enjoyed reading. I am terribly sorry for what happened.I can imagine how freaked your daughter probably was because if I had witnessed this happening to my dad (or anyone else for that matter) I would never step foot in the water again.

    Stay safe and avoid fish with teeth- =)

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  8. Alex Thomson
    May 6, 2013 at 6:33 am

    I would just like to say, I know for a fact barracuda’s attack unprovoked, I am now sat in the hospital in cancun with my 11 year old son because he nearly lost his foot to a barracuda

    we were in a turquoise patch of sea and white sand in about 3-4 feet of water, he was having a cuddle with mum she was holding him and he had his feet out behind her, my parter felt something tug her backwards then my son screamed she looked round and saw a big silver fish which she thought was shark because of its size behind her and a pool of blood she screamed for help I was on the sand at this point and didnt realise what was happening . there was a lot of people in the same patch we were in on the hotel beach. iberostar riviera maya del mar I recognised my sons cry and ran to the shore at this point a lifeguard was pulling him out of the water I felt like my heart had been ripped out when I saw his foot.

    It had bit thought a toe bone and two tendons, damaged two more tendons and there is ligament missing he was in surgery for 3 hours and has about 60 stitches and a 8 inch steel pin right through his foot we were ment to be flying home back to the uk today but can’t because he needs to be kept on IV because of the exposed fracture and risk of infection

    I’m also an advanced open water diver and have seen many barracuda in the Red Sea, Indian Ocean and also here, and never dreamed for a minute that this could happen in such shallow water the surgeon took some photos before and after so if anyone doubts or could shed any light on the bite itself I’d be happy to mail them

    And I can’t believe they didn’t clear the beach after his attack with all that blood in the water!!!!!!!!!

    Regards
    A very concerned Dad

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  9. Dave Hoffmann
    May 6, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    We had just arrived at the beach for the day when this happened. No one else on the beach ever knew what happened unless you happened to talk to one of the people who assisted. One silver haired woman (I think from Pittsburgh) whom was also a nurse, was there assisting & her travel companions told us what happened after the fact & said she was pretty sure he would lose a few toes at best. We stayed out of the water for awhile after that but never saw anyone raise any warning flags or let anyone know what happened. People were just allowed to swim as if nothing happened.

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  10. Susanna
    May 27, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    Hi Thomas,

    For the past 10 years I have been leaving and working in the Exuma, Bahamas. I am an advance scuba diver. Occasionally I have been going spear fishing with locals but never encountered a negative behavior with a Barracuda. I do respect this unpredictable species. And usually if you ask the locals they do warn you when you spearfish but most of their answer is “the barracuda doesn’t bother you”
    On every other dive I go I usually see one lazing around. Well, recently I have been diving with my underwater camera in shallow water. Most of my dives I return to are familiar around this islands. In one particular spot I have been seeing this individual Great Barracuda. He is maybe 3ft long, big and has a very light-silver skin. Right around the area there are other land animals that have been hand-fed in the water on a daily base if not on a hour base during peak season. On my last couple of times I have been in the water the barracuda reminded very casual with no apparent interest. Sometime he would be curious about my camera and will move closer to me. Maybe he sees his own reflection or my shiny wide-lens dome just confuses him. He would always swim along at the same distance crossing sides every so often. But at this specific day I didn’t see him when I entered the water and as I was swimming back to the boat I felt a strike to my fins. Instantly I turned around and as the bubbles of my kicks dissipated to the surface the barracuda appeared from nowhere steering at me. I remained calm and watched him. He slowly moved to my side so I turned my camera towards me to avoid any other reflections that might instigated him. Or who knows why, is it the full moon?!? I kept facing him and continued swimming slowly towards my boat. I decided to end the dive then. Now I m remained with a curiosity of what maybe triggered the barracuda to hit forcible my fins.

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  11. Brynn
    August 7, 2013 at 4:51 am

    Today there was a group of people feeding about one hundred fish. A large barracuda came up and like half of them in 7 seconds. The barracuda was big so I was not willing to go to far from shore and since I knew barracudas were dangerous I told my family that a barrauda was swimming around. But that same group of people never went back into the water the rest if the day and the fish came from within 2 feet from us.

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  12. Cesar Pico
    August 7, 2013 at 6:58 am

    Tom,

    First of all sorry about your finger and Im glad that you could still typewrite just fine.

    Im in Puerto Morelos, a nice and calm town in the middle of Cancun and Playa del Carmen. I really enjoy to swim in the morning or in the night, when the sun does not burn to much. 3 times I have seen different Barracudas. Today in the morning one started to curious around me: if I moved forward, he moved forward, if I stopped, he stopped. (The other ones never did that). I decided to get out and investigate more about this animal.

    After seen this video on YouTube ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2TTABF0gGkw ), and reading your article I am very alarmed and concern about continuing my swimming routine or not. I really dont want to give it up.. I personally had thought on bringing a Rambo knife to feel more secure, but after reading your article this does not seem to be a good idea.

    I have read all your recommendations, but I cant stop concerning about it. Can you give me another advise? To cross myself and be in peace perhaps?

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  13. Keith Fearns
    August 13, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    Never seen a barracuda but i decided to study them after watching the 1978 movie, but heres my story of when i was a lad, it has to do with a much bigger predator… at ten or eleven i decided i wanted to go across the beach, gulf coast of Mississippi on their ferrie ride. So i was given a chance to go. along side the boat we saw dolphins leaping. fun day. so when we finally got to the little isle or island, it was amazing beautiful. the water wasnt dark it was crystal clear so i jumped in but it was way too cold for me. So i walked to the back side burned my feet badly… the boardwalk burned like coal occasionally i jumped into the cool shade of tree in the sand. ok so i reached the backside the water feels much better but it completely brown. I stepped on a rock or something very cuttable, blood must have came out and drawn a creature. because i noticed something with stripes. at first i thought it was a koi fish, freshwater, ah how dumb i was, it swam right under my legs, a dark shadowy figure of a tiger shark! So i froze. floating on the surface, i did a 360 and lightly nudged back to land, unscathe. but i almost had a heartattack

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  14. Mason
    September 5, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    Dr. Tom,

    What an insightful article on both your experience and barracuda in general. I am sorry for your lost finger. Being a recovery room RN in an internationally renown hand surgery center (The Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky), it is even more personal!

    TODAY, I have to say I was scared out of my mind. I am in Grand Cayman, on the north bend of Seven Mile Beach (the quiet stretch).

    Having been to Aruba and Hawai and growing up in Central Florida, I am a beach kid. I’ve always been comfortable in the water.

    With the crystal clear water and great snorkel opportunities here, I purchased a high-end snorkel set (no fins) just this morning at a local dive shop.

    In the early afternoon, I went out and started doing my thing right behind the condo. I got past a large vegetation bed and kept going. I was in probably 15-20 ft of water.

    I had seen a fish with a blue stripe along its back earlier on and to my amazement there were a few around me now, so I started following them. They were only 5 or 6 inches long, nothing special. Suddenly, they disappeared. It was like someone turned on a light switch. Then, lo and behold, a few feet up off the floor was a Great Barracuda. My estimate was that he was 4 to 5 ft long.

    I was mortified. I realized he was beneath me and just out past me, so I immediately began slowly swimming backward to ward shore. Mind you, I know nothing about their behavior, so I was unsure what my fate was going to be. I was a distance from shore, I’d say at least 100 to 125 yards.

    As I moved backward, it never lost sight of me, slowly ascending toward me. My heart began pounding and my breathing intensified. I was sure if I should be still or make monstrous splashing.

    Eventually, after a few minutes, it was approx 8-10 ft from me and following me. I decided to give in and kick with all my might. I wanted to bolt in a swim (I’ve been swimming since I was four), but never wanted to let my eyes off it.

    After what seemed like a damn eternity and my worst stare down ever, he backed off as I got toward more shallow water as the sea floor came closer. I still couldn’t touch bottom, but it wasn’t the depth where I’d met him/her.

    Needless to say, and my heart is pounding again as I’ve typed this, I will never forget that encounter. What an escort, eh?

    Regardless of how many gazillion times people have swam with these creatures and left unscathed, I am going to consider myself very lucky.

    As a post script, it dawned on me that I was wearing a necklace. It is a thin cable-link platinum chain with two small charms (one is an ancient Ionian coin about 1/2″ in diameter and the other one is a small gold charm with tiny diamonds). Who knows…maybe the amazing Cayman sun flashed it toward my new friend?

    Thanks again for this page!
    -Mason

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  15. kate
    May 29, 2014 at 5:45 am

    I am in my 50′s and have traveled the world and snorkeled in Cozumel, Bali, Oman, Hawaii, St. Lucia, Africa, etc., and have never been afraid.
    Over 30 years ago my husband and I caught a cheap flight to Cozumel for our honeymoon and we were hooked. We stayed at the “Hotel Cozumel” and couldn’t afford a boat tour and so at the recommendation of the staff, just walked (barefooted) south of the hotel and floated north along the rocks. So many fish, so astounding. ( This was over 30 years ago. No pollution, no tourist ships. Safe to rent a moped.) I remember a small silver barracuda just cruising past me.
    We went back a few years ago and had a great time, although we could now afford a private tour boat and things have changed. I saw groups of barracuda 50 feet below me and just enjoyed them. We snorkel and don’t dive.
    WELL. We went back a couple of years ago and stayed south, so that we were near the deep reefs.
    One morning we decided to really exercise and take advantage of the hotel’s roped in safe swimming area. (roped off from dock and any boats) We swam over much sand and in about 10-12 feet of water found a small man-made reef with tiny, fascinating fish and observed them and we were suddenly surrounded by thousands of silver, shiny, sardine-like fish.
    We were like kids in disney land. We would dive down and they would split and swirl as if it were ballet. Around and around us. I could hear my husband’s laughter through his snorkel.
    He turned to observe the tiny, colorful fish and I continued to play with the silver, sardine fish and I was just about to dive in and play, when they suddenly “split” and there was the largest thing in the sea I have been near. A huge Giant Barracuda. I thought barracuda were silver and slim, but he was very dark brown and his teeth were hanging out out. He was AT least 5-6 feet and about 12-15 away. Head the size of a dinner plate.
    I froze.
    A gentle current swished me 1 foot closer.
    I turned and snorkel screamed at my husband; “GO,GO, GO!”
    Did he? No. Men.
    After some discussion we swam like hell to shore, but went out again. This time the opposite direction towards the dock.
    The silver fish appeared.
    I told my husband lets leave.
    I saw the barracuda.
    He saw the barracuda.
    I keep thinking of what would have happened it I had taken that last dive through the silver sardines.
    I would have run in to him.

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  16. Michael
    June 13, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    I’ve done about 60 dives but I’d conservatively guess 700 of hours of snorkelling in the last 6 years in Eastern Indonesia.
    I always snorkel alone, which isn’t wise, and have had two edgy experiences in total, one with a huge 5ft barracuda and the other with a 6-7ft fully mature Black Tip reef shark. On both occasions I was unaware of their presence until they were within a 1-5 ft of me and I’m interested if the fact I didn’t flinch, act startled either time maybe save me from a strike.

    Anyway the Baracuda incident was long 2 hour swim in Halmahera with huge concentrations of fish, many groupers, potato cod etc and a passing Black Tip every 10 mins. These kept me on alert but then just a foot in front of me was this huge Baracuda that had come out of nowhere and I sensed didn’t like expending energy without a chump. It circled me 3 times before vanishing at speed. This all lasted about 10 seconds and despite initially not flinching my heart was palpably beating the longer he sized me up. Visibility was a perfect 90ft.

    The shark, these Black Tips are supposedly non threatening; I was swimming in average visibility, 40ft and 25ft deep water when I noticed some sweetlips over to my left, which I kept concentrating on while swimming back to shore. Then after 20 odd seconds I sensed something to my right and only 4-5 feet away was the shark. I didn’t flinch, no sudden movements, but i could see the shark’s pupils get a nervous glaze despite maintaining its calm. It very, very slowly edged away from me before taking off.

    Did my unnatural calmness prevent attacks from the B’Cuda and BT because I’m pretty certain I’ll never remain has composed again?
    Oh yea, should just add that I never wear jewellery, no knife/watch or spearfishing. Also have heard of spearfishers being attacked by Barracuda in Indonesia, one 20 stitches to his side, and a doctor has told me he has treated 4 fishermen in last three years, who were using nets at night, for lost fingers and one his whole hand to Barracuda. This was on Morotai, Eastern Indonesia. No shark attacks reported in decades.

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  17. Cade
    June 28, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    Tom, just got back from diving Cozumel. Have been around Barracudas for many years but now have a newfound respect. We often snorkel off the beach at our resort on off days or afternoons. I was snorkeling this past Sunday when an unprovoked attach happened and I got it on film. I was not bitten, but the fish was about 10-15 feet away and turned, faced me and swam straight at my mask. I moved to block with my left arm and he swam so close to my arm and face, I have o idea how he did not hit me. Then he swam low and sideways very distinctly looking at me and struck at me again, I was turning to swim away was sure he would hit my fins or leg, he came so close in the video it looks like his tail hit my mask. My son and wife witnessed the aggression a nd it was significantly scary and as in your case, my son is very afraid of the fish now. I feel lucky, this fish was between 4.5 and 6 ft.

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  18. Natalie
    August 1, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    We just came from Exumas, Bahamas. I swam and snorkeled extensively at the Tropic of Cancer Beach (Little Exuma). Barracuda was following me on one snorkeling trip. It exhibited the described behavior – followed me on one side, then disappeared, then followed me on a different side. I did not know that it was barracuda at the time, made a picture and realized that later..
    Interestingly, I was encountered by 2 dolphins at the same place. They were ‘studying’ me and swam around and underneath me. Though I knew that they were not dangerous to people, I decided to swim to the shore. They followed me! Thus, I brought 2 dolphins to the excited beach public. It was unforgettable but terrifying experience (as I did not know if their ‘play’ would include pushing..)

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  19. Giss
    August 17, 2014 at 5:17 am

    Hi!
    Interesting story!

    Similarly to some commenters above, i’ve been charged by a 6ft barracuda.

    I’m a Jamaican postgrad student doing some research on the herbivorous fish community across proposed marine park boundaries in the Cayman Islands. I was doing a working dive in Cayman Brac 2days ago…diving by the port (commonly known as Panama Canal). When i was reeling out my 3rd transect and counting fishes, this barracuda swims up out of the clear blue.
    Okay…so they’re curious animals. I know this. They love following divers, as is the habit. I’m not 100% okay with this, but i’m in their world, so i must live with it. Fine.
    If it was only following my buddy and I……then it would have all been copacetic. BUT!!! no!!!……….while doing our work…this fish decided to swim at us at extremely fast speeds and stopped short ~3ft away multiple times, making us very uneasy. So i swam to my buddy and wrote on my slate to her that we’d be moving quicker, as we were very uneasy.
    The barracuda kept charging at us and stopping short and staring at us individually every couple of minutes until we reeled up our last transect (i surveyed 5x100ft transects twice….so obviously this happened for ~35mins)..and then as we were swimming back to the boat….charged at us while we were swimming away….
    We were both afraid that it would just take an annoyed or exploratory chunk out of our legs…..

    Another postgrad research student here in the Brac doing surveys also witnessed this sort of behaviour from a large barracuda today.

    Maybe they’re protecting their territory from a seemingly large new fish (divers)……

    Either way…these fishes are obviously unpredictable. And their menacing appearance doesn’t do much for their species either. lol!

    Advice: Keep your DAN insurance…agreed. and NEVER dive alone.

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  20. Rowan Brown
    October 8, 2014 at 1:40 am

    My wife and I had never traveled anywhere… Anywhere.. Until 6 years ago when we decided to find a tropical island with ‘the best beaches in the world’. Snorkeling wasn’t even a driver at the time. Just wanted to see the prettiest beaches. Our net research pointed us to Eleuthera island Bahamas. Fast forward.. We’ve now been there four times,and, I’m completely hooked on snorkeling at Harbour Island and Eleutera. We’ve been in the water off of most of their beaches. I’m clearly a water rat, and didn’t know it. It hard to get me out of the water. I’m writing the post, sitting in a condo in Wailea Maui.. Our 5th tropical trip.

    On our first trip to Eleuthera I saw my first great Atlantic barracuda. He’s a permanent resident off the shore where Tippys restaurant is, Governors Harbor, Atlantic side of the island. My first time in, I didn’t actually see him. I had just gotten out, and my wife said, “I’m so glad you got out, there was a large reef shark swimming right next to you”. I turned around and saw a 6 foot long dark shape in the water. (I now understand that barracudas are brown on top and can look like sharks from above). The next day I went again figuring, what are the chances. I swam 100 yards out, stayed for a while, was looking around, when I turned and saw this large pike fish waaaaaaay off in the distance (really high visibility that day. 150 feet or more). I turned back around to look at some reef fish. Then I turned back again (only 10 seconds have elapsed) and there was this gigantic barracuda staring right at my mask.. Two feet from me. Scared me to death. I didn’t know what to do. You know those really savage looking pics of barracudas on the net? Find the gnarliest hugest scariest one you can ( it’s ok, I’ll wait). Ok.. THATs the guy that was on me!!

    I decided to gently swim towards him to try and stand him down and get some bearing on what to do. It worked, and he turned around. I watched him swim off… To invisibility (150 feet or more, remember). Then I turned, and swam for shore.. Fast. Really fast. I’m a fast swimmer. And that day, I was really cooking in. After 30 seconds, I turned around on my back to see if he was following me. He.. Was right at my feet, as though he’d never left!

    I repeated the same chase off pattern, followed by more panicked high speed swimming for shore. The exact same thing happened, again! He disappeared, and the later was literally on me. I ended up swimming gently then, on my back, just with my hands, to keep an eye on him. He stayed with me, inch for inch, not moving a fin btw, the whole way to shore, right up until I felt the sand hit my back… I was in 9 inches of water, at shore. I scrambled out of the water, and he just sat there in the shallows. Which gave me the opp to confirm, this was the same 6 foot long shape I’d seen the day before. He owned that cove, and he was letting me know … he owned my ass too. I’ve never ever entered that particular cove again.

    Since then, I’ve seen 5 other instances of great atlantic barracudas, all at different reefs/beaches. All, about 5 feet in length. Two of the instances, the were schools of three. Each time, I’ve quietly gently swam back to shore… And found another beach. Eleuthera seems to have a lot of them. I’m terrified of them. But I love snorkeling so much, I can’t stop. I can totally believe that they attack unprovoked. They’re an ancient prehistoric animal.. Survival machine, and we’re in their environment. I’ve thought about getting a large black dive knife but it sounds pointless, due to their speed (which I lived through and saw).

    thank you for posting your story. And I’m very very sorry for your injury. I think it’s important to use the net to post everyone’s experiences. Thanks.

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