BARRACUDA ATTACK

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.

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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80 thoughts on “BARRACUDA ATTACK”

  1. Comment to Adriana and Tom,

    Thank you for sharing your stories and I hope Adriana is recovering fully.

    I am a barracuda fisherman. I love and respect these amazing predators and always try to release them alive (even resuscitating when needed).
    This article was quite a revelation to me as I have always been given the standard line about cuda not attacking people. Having seen a zillion of them strike (or not), I have a couple comments.
    The first is that cuda can be erratic (as can other predatory sportfish). I have seen them strike instantly when a lure hit the water when there was no time for recognition (like the Woods Hole guy).
    The second thing is that Caribbean cuda love to eat needlefish. We use a lure that is a long skinny thing about 20-30 cm long. The best colors are green and or shiny, like the needlefish. I wonder if your “metal stick” somehow looked like that or maybe that fish was used to being fed off of one by other divers.

    Thanks again and take care.

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  2. I was approached by a very large and angry looking barracuda while snorkeling off of Buck Island (St.Croix, US Virgin Islands). I had a silver camera and was taking photos of various fish and coral. I had been swimming for over an hour and made it quite a ways from the group. I went around some large coral to see a barracuda staring at me with its mouth open. No more than 10 feet away. The barracuda was at least 6 feet long. I had no idea that they attacked shiny objects, and honestly had no clue what the fish was but I was absolutely terrified after seeing its teeth.

    I backed away from it slowly and it was watching me the whole time. Once it was out of my sight I swam as fast as I could back to the boat. I explained what I saw to the captain and he told me that it was a barracuda and it probably was curious about my camera, but that many of the Buck Island ones are solitary and very territorial.

    Once I got on the boat everyone was already on board because there was a lemon shark in the water. Close call that day.

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  3. I was doing my first night dive in Jamaica in 2007. I shone my light around, looking at the reef, when it illuminated a barracuda. I guess the light pissed it off, because it immediately charged at me, swimming through my buddy’s legs to get at me, with its mouth fully open. We were in about fifteen feet of water, so I swam away from it toward the surface and turned off my light, trying to avoid the damn thing. Probably it was just a territorial display or it was angered by the light, because I was not bitten or otherwise struck, but I have been extremely wary of barracudas ever since. Hearing of Paul Herring’s experience is chilling, because many details of the attacks are so similar.

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  4. Barracuda -Moby Dick

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  5. Tom
    I agree. But they are trying to ignore them because they do not want to jeopardize the tourism! In the liveaboard i was, the driver commented it was a previous one, but nobody in the crew mentioned it!

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  6. Thanks, Adriana! I’m glad you got away with so little damage, you’re very lucky, but you will need to work at the physical therapy!

    As your driver says, these are far more frequent than people realize, because they are systematically ignored.

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  7. I forgot in my previous report that

    On the boat, I have to mention what I heard the driver saying:
    1- Mentioning that in Belize this season were 8 barracuda attacks that he remembered.
    2- One of them occurred to one lady that had been bitten by a barracuda in her face where she was having the snorkel (maybe the barracuda confused it with a fish? – we will never know)
    3- People feeding barracudas with sticks and harpoons.

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  8. Diving incident. Bitten by a barracuda in Half Moon Keys. Belize.
    I was with Daniel embarked since September 1st 2012, and it was my second diving day, second dive.
    It was an incredible bright and sunny day; the water was calm like a pool, 30C. I was wearing 1 mm long john suit. No gloves, carrying my camera in my right hand, and a metal stick – 25 cms. Long approximately- in my left hand – the ones that divers use not to touch the ground or any coral.

    We were there for the first dive in the morning that September 3rd. all together with the group, and alone in the second dive.

    Daniel and I were diving around the reef, videoing and taking pictures. We were astonished by two eagle rays at around 25 mts deep – and going up. We were at 13 mts between two marvelous reefs, when something hit me on my left side, and something happened to my left hand. At the same time I hit on Daniel who was on my left. He was surprised, as he could only see a barracuda – without knowing what was going on. He thought I was scared about the fish that was so close to me – he did not realize for the first minute that I was bitten. Everything happened seconds. The it was in front of us threatening – maybe looking for another bite. I grabbed my left hand and check what happened, I was having wounds in my fingers (pinky and ring) plus others in the hand. I counted my fingers, all of them were there!!!! I was very happy just for this.

    Daniel was trying to get something to shelter from the fish and defend ourselves, as you can imagine, what can we carry underwater in such a pleasant day? Nothing. The barracuda was there, intimidating us. At that time Daniel realized the barracuda had bitten me, as he saw the blood coming from my hand.

    I cannot remember how, but the fish was behind us, again menacing us, coming and going, following us. We started to go up to the surface, very calm. We never see the barracuda again. It was big, over 1,20 mts long. I do remember her/his sharp tooth.

    Once we reached the surface, we inflated our BC’s, and the whistles that we carry were very helpful. We were like 200 mts from the boat, and the crew heard us immediately. We were doing the agreed signs for emergency, and they check if it was a real emergency. They sent a small boat to us.

    They took my diving gear in the boat, and I do not understand why – I am still waiting for their comment on this – asked me to swim to the Cruise. Daniel started arguing with the Captain – why wouldn’t they take me in the small boat to the cruise. I think that I was so shocked that I started swimming to it. In such situation, I was just having my left hand – bleeding a lot – outside the water and swimming the way I could.

    I got to the boat, and all the crew took good care of me. They – mainly the dive master – cleaned my wounds very carefully and did a basic first aid, and wrap them with band aids. Then, we had to call DAN, to report the incident. We called them, and they responded very professionally and very quickly. They identify my diving coverage, and sent a fast boat to where we were.

    Meanwhile, other divers were coming to surface and got to know what happened. Nobody could believe it.
    The crew started asking if there was a lion fish around us – that could be the reason of the attack- they say. They commented that local people are feeding barracudas with the lion fish that they find. Also, they mentioned that they use small spearguns or metal sticks (like the one I was carrying) to kill and feed barracudas and nurse sharks.
    Everybody asked: where you carrying a ring? Bracelets? No, nothing, just the metal stick. Was the fish attracted to it?

    Daniel packed all of our gear, and in the next hour we had the boat picking up us to Belize City.

    Once in Belize City, I was taken to al Belize Medical Associates, they took off the band aids, did a better clean to my wounds, and call Dr. Roberts, as they understood I needed a special doctor to check my tendons. I do not remember if it was an hour or two, but there I was in a hospital when I was supposed to be diving in such a wonderful place like Belize and on the way to the Blue Hole.
    Dr. Roberts arrived, checked my hand, and told me that I needed stitches, antibiotics, tetanus injection, and that the tendon of my left ring finger was almost totally cut, so that he needed to sew it.
    Lots of shots – I thought I was going to faint!! Then the doctor started stitching everything.
    After this, we started thinking in coming back sooner to our country – Argentina – and planning to change al the flights. It was impossible to go on diving – at least in this trip. I did not have fever.

    We stayed at a hotel, and next day flew back to Miami on the way to Buenos Aires. In Miami I went to Aventura Hospital, they checked the wounds and in two days I was back in Argentina. I had the stitches removed Wednesday 19th September, and today it’s been 3 weeks since the attack. I will need physical therapy in the next month to recover full movement of my hand.

    I still feel I am very lucky. I – fortunately – have all my fingers!!!!

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  9. I just returned from Cancun and had several cuss sightings behind the dreams resort, I am in awe of the wickedly beauty of barracudas, I’m glad I didn’t read this sight and comment section prior to my trip. Several years ago I was fishing out of Cancun and had hooked a hard pulling tuna that finally stopped fighting yet I still felt weight on the line, I ended up pulling up about 2 feet of tuna head and the deckhands said the visas got him.

    From the back of the dreams resort you can duck a rope and literally float over about two hundred yards of reef with current pushing you around the red and white lighthouse point…you start off seeing tiny fish, then a little bigger, then giant parrotfish, and the anticipation is kicking after 100yds or so as you know what’s coming next as you approach the exposed rocks…. on one circuit after I checked my surroundings on top of the water, upon lowering my head back, there were nine, with at least five being five footers all checking me out, incredible sight. I did this same circuit about 10x and usually only saw two or three together at any time so to see that was amazing!!

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  10. Dear Adriana,

    I’m very sorry to hear of your barracuda attack, but happy to hear that you will not lose your fingers! I hope that your tendons were not damaged and that you will be able to use your fingers normally once you heal. Barracuda attacks are almost never documented, so it is hard to make sense of patterns. It is important for you to write up what happened, but no rush, only when you can.

    Buena suerte con todo!

    Saludos,
    Tom

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  11. I was attacked by a barracuda in Belize in half moon reef. This happened last monday, sept 05 2012. I saved all my fingers fortunatelly. I will summarize and get back to you with more details. I am still under antibiotics and trying to return home, in Argentina.

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  12. Some brief comments. I believe that the lady who worried about her son’s dental braces attracting barracudas is worrying too much, unless he swims with no snorkel and mouth wide open.

    Paul Mila, in his August 2012 Sea Gram email newsletter has posted some video of barracuda attacking fish next to people in Cozumel. The barracuda seem to be totally focused on the fish, not the people. You can see them at:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6naJLskTec&feature=g-upl

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=thuJHjIwb3g&feature=channel&list=UL

    Paul discusses this in his emailed Seagram newsletter, which does not have a url, but you can reach him at Paul Mila

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  13. About five years ago I was snorkelling in the BVI off a small shallow reef with my two daughters. I was in front of them and came across a small barracuda. I stopped and watched the small fish until my daughters arrived followed by a 5 foot barracuda. It took up a position about 6 foot to my left and then quickly moved to a point about 6 foot directly in front. We stared at each other for a few seconds and I believe I waved my hands. It then slowly opened its mouth (it appeared to open over 90 degrees) and showed a rather worrying set of long teeth, while keeping its mouth open it then slowly went nearly vertical (head down). At this point my bravado left me and I slowly (deliberately) swam off. I did not look back and joined my daughters with one swimming either side. The daughter on my right side suddenly swam over my back (pushing me down on the way!) and zoomed off towards the shore. Turning to my right I found myself eyeball to eyeball with the barracuda about 18 inches away. It appeared to be escorting me off it’s territory. All very exciting.

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  14. I was diving in Cozumel on the Santa Rosa wall last week and slightly scratched my bare leg on some coral. The tiny cut was bleeding very slightly. No more than a drop or two of blood I would guess.

    Shortly after this, the dive master came racing towards me with his spear (he used it to kill lion fish normally). A medium sized barracuda had taken interest in my small cut and was inches away from me.

    This may have been a more significant issue than I imagined at the time!
    The dive master was able to keep the fish away from me.

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  15. In a few months we will be taking our second trip to the Bahamas region. While there last year we noticed large signs on the beach in Nassau stating to not wear jewelry on the beach because of barracudas. I was grateful for the signs as I had never heard of that before.
    Well, we are returning this year and something new has come up that I have been searching the internet on (that lead me here). I know that jewelry and shiny objects are a no-no. BUT…my 12 year old son just got these nice shiny braces on his teeth! I am assuming that would be the same thing as wearing jewelry in the water…right? Is he ok with is face above water, can a barracuda see above water? He wanted to snorkel again.

    The cruise line assured me it was not the same and should be no issue at all. I don’t believe them and am considering having my sons braces removed for vacation. Am I being over paranoid?

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  16. Came across this thread via the google search “how to avoid barracuda”. I am very appreciative of this site, and have not found others like it. Preparing for a third trip down to Akumal Mexico. Hoping not to make it 3 for 3 in scary barracuda sightings during vacations. Like the location because a friend is familiar with the area, but starting to get a little leary. First time was snorkeling and a “cuda” lead the direction I was swimming for about 2 minutes and then darted off. Was about three feet long, and was just below the surface. Second time out went down for a snorkel dive and came back up to the surface fast, took a breath and there was 4 foot cuda looking at me two feet from my face. Was abit in shock so barely moved and just slowly backed up a bit. Swam slowly right in front of me just below the surface and disappeared. Was amazed at how fast it moved with the only the slightest bit of energy. Swimmimg by it was like it was saying “this is how big I am”. Don’t know if its made this lagoon its home, but next time will proceed with caution. Yikes.

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  17. Dear Marie,

    There are apparently no certified and confirmed records of barracuda bigger than about 6 feet. But many people have seen ones of that size or very close to it, such as the one that bit me. There is no reason they could not get larger, and there are quite a number of people who claim to have seen significantly bigger ones. They may be right, but there are also some reports out there that are simply unbelievably huge. I personally don’t doubt you, but I think you will find most people won’t without a dead barracuda that can be weighed and measured.

    They would swim with me every time I went in the water when I was a boy, and was never afraid of them although they would swim in parallel with me. They used to be much more common then, they have become rare because they are actively fished.

    But Don DeSylva in his book on the Barracuda, based on a lot of fishing for them in the 1950s and early 1960s, does not tabulate any much bigger than about 4 feet, which is a surprise, because I would have expected bigger ones then when they were much more abundant, and there was so much more food for them

    Best wishes,
    Tom

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  18. Hi! I’ve just read this story and the comments here. I told my story today about seeing a giant barracuda in Florida, to some of my relatives, and decided to do a search to see how large barracuda’s get. That led me to your site.

    I’m sorry you hadd the experience you did. But it informs others to be more careful when around barracudas.

    I was a kid when jaws came out and was pretty respectful of the ocean as a result.

    I decided to go snorkling in the Cayman Islands many years ago. It seemed so wonderful under the water with the beautiful and very colorful fish. Besides which, they seemed happy to see us and came very close to us!

    I then saw a sea turtle and dove down deep to follow it with my snorkles. I didn’t see any sharks or anything to be frightened of that day.

    Later, when snorkling in Florida, I swam daily with a school of Barracuda. It seemed to be the same school. I would swim and one would always come up along side of me, perhaps, a two or three feet away. Surrounding him was a school, sort of in a circle all around us. I never felt threatened or frightened.

    The barracuda who swam along side of me, seemed to have curious eyes towards me. I felt safe with him. His teeth were scary though, but his eyes just seemed curious towards me.

    I had the feeling that I was safe with that particular barracuda.

    Then one day, I visited a different beach in Florida and they rang some bell and were urging swimmers out of the water.

    I said to one of the life guards, “Why did they ring the bell or whatever it was that made a loud noise? The man responded to me, “Because there are barracuda in the water”. And I thought to myself, “gee, I swim with barracuda all the time and they never bother me”.

    But it was then that I realized that they were dangerous or could be and so I stopped swimming with the Barracuda.

    I noticed that when a shark attack happened in Florida, or like the shark got a tourist, and took it out to sea, it wasn’t publisized that well. For instance, I saw a small article in the local paper mentioning an attack like that in Miami from a shark. It didn’t even make the headline news!

    So a while later, I was asked if I wanted to go out in Ft. Lauderdale… like I would snorkle, since I did not know how to dive, (all the rules an all), and the other person would be diving. I was on top of the sea, while they were on the bottom. There is suppose to be a buddy system–which I violated. As–I sheer panicked!

    We were a good two or three miles off the coast of Florida in Ft. Lauderdale. (I should have known better because I had also remembered reading about snorklers who had gotten run over by speed boats in Florida. I knew that had happened before. So I don’t know what I was thinking, but the sea looked so beautiful. It was a clear day. It looked like a giant fish tank so safe feeling.

    At some point, quite far off the coast of Florida, I saw a giant sized barracuda. I knew it was, because I had swam with them before. Only this one was Giant Sized making the other relatively large 4 to 6 ft barracuda look tiny in comparisong.

    This barracuda was just sitting still in the water. It wasn’t doing anything else. I saw it and was sizing it up. It was unbelievable in size to me and reminded me of the size of the jaws movie shark. Only it was not a shark it was a barracuda. It too looked at me with it’s large curious eyes like the other barracuda which swam next to me.

    It’s body looked like a submarine, but it was not that. It looked exactly like a regular barracuda on a monstrous size. The barracuda I swam with on a regular basis had teeth that were like finger sized in length on the top and bottom of their mouths. Okay, If I were to the mouth looked large enough to swallow me whole in. If I were to put my arms up and make them circular to imitate the size of the mouth… it was like that. It’s teeth, instead of being finger sized, were like from my elbow to the tip of my finger on both the lower and upper mouth.

    I was so thankful it didn’t look mean. Nor did it come after me. It just sat there with it’s curious eyes.

    The diver was under me pointing up at it–thinking it was great probably, but not me. I was beginning to panic! And so i did! I just split. Forget the buddy system. I was trying to alert the diver to let them know i was not okay! But I took off so fast. I noticed the shore, how far away I was from it. It seemed impossible to make it to shore. I was swallowing salt water trying to make it back. The waves were sort of going against me. But I kept kicking and swimming in a sheer panic. I was thinking, “if this barracuda doesn’t get me, the sharks will.”

    Finally, I made it to the shore, Alive! I was so thankful, and I knew that was the end of my sea exploring. After that I would not snorkel again no matter how beautiful the sea. I had just seen something that made me realize that I belong on the land and feel much safer there!

    When I got home, I later looked it up–about the size of barracuda’s. And I found one reference that said that they had been known to get to be 11 ft. off the coast of the Bahama’s. What I saw was at least 11 ft to 15 ft at least and perhaps more. It’s body and teeth were exactly like the smaller baracuda’s only giant size. I did not make this up.

    I did another search to see if I could find it on the internet about the size again–of the barracuda’s. I did a short search, but I found one that said–that there have been people who said they saw the baracuda’s that large, but no one really believed them.

    But it’s true! That is exactly what I saw.

    I’m so sorry about what the author experienced. But I’m thankful I’m still alive and wasn’t attacked in that incident!

    Thanks for telling your story!

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  19. Hi,
    I just got back from a trip in Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba. Two days into my vacation I got bit on the foot from a baracuda. I was very lucky, it missed my bone for the big toe and my tendon. I bled very bad. I thought I hit a rock while I was swimming, the water was quite rough and the sand was stirred up. But I was bleeding from the top of my foot and under. I will post the bite after it got stitched. People said that there was 6′ long baracudas swimming quite close to the shore. Funny thing is nobody would acknowledge that it was a baracuda. I did have a ankle bracelet on that day in the water, also there were people fishing in a reef close to where I was swimming. People need to know that it can happen. It actually makes me quite mad that this is the case.

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  20. I have been fascinated with barracuda since I began diving over 25 years ago. I have dived all across the globe, but the largest Cuda I’ve ever seen were off the coast of North Carolina. They seem to hover under the large dive boats and wait for divers to do their 3 minute hang. The large barracuda enjoy swimming slowly right up to your face and eyeball you. A pal took a close up picture of a fierce looking Cuda and it is so scary, that I was compelled to write a fictional book about it “Barracuda”. I also have pix of large pelagics on my website under author bio. Blogs like this are essential to educate divers/swimmers/snorkelers about the dangers of these fascinating creatures. By the way, dive knives will NOT protect you from these lightening fast predators. Not unless you stab your dive buddy and leave him/her to fend off the beast. 🙂

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  21. My pal and I were snorkeling off shore in St. Croix. The owner of the dive shop there told us to spray dull black paint on any chrome or shinny item that might attract a Barracuda. Barracudas are somewhat curious and are attracted to shinny objects. We had several 6 footers swimming within several feet of us, but didn’t show any threat. Their large teeth were kind of scary though. The fish life in St. Croix are varied and so beautiful to watch and Enjoy. Mark

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  22. Thanks for this important eyewitness information. I had heard about this case from divers in Cozumel, but as is typical of barracuda attacks, news about it appears to have been very successfully suppressed. It is odd how every shark attack is instant world wide news, but barracuda attacks NEVER are, even when they are fatal, as in this sad case.

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  23. In the late 90s a woman tourist was killed in the calm waters off Tulum (in the Yucatan, lower on the mainland across from Cozumel) from a barracuda attack on her neck due to a shiny necklace. I and many other tourists were in the calm, beautiful water when it happened. She had friends swimming with her, but it seemed no one even realized until she was dead in the water what had occurred. I’ve never read or seen anything about it since the day I saw it happen from a short expanse away.

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  24. Thanks, Brad! I hope that this poor guy pulls through with minimum damage, but those teeth are razor sharp! What we find is that every shark attack is worldwide news, but that no barracuda attack even makes the most local news. One strongly suspects that they are deliberately suppressed as “bad for business”.

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  25. Well, you can chalk up another unprovoked barracuda attack happening in the waters of Cozumel. This one happened to one of the competitors at the Ironman event in Cozumel on November 27th. It happened almost immediately after the swimmers (2,300 of them) started off on the swim leg. One of the swimmers was bit underneath his upper left arm; an event staffer on a jetski picked him up and brought him back to the dock where his arm was wrapped in a towel and he was escorted to a waiting ambulance. Don’t know what the result of the injury were except that it pretty much ruined his ironman attempt that day. You can see a picture of him riding back in if you go to this website http://www.2digital.com.mx/version3/ and click on Ironman 2011 event – then type in Vear for pictures – I saved his pic in the collection – about 11th row down.
    Strangely, I haven’t seen any report or mention of this freak injury in any of the typical ironman sites or blogs. Guess they don’t want to freak out future competitors.

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  26. We just got out of the water snorkeling in Akumal Bay south of Playa Del Carmen and were spooked by a 5 or 6 foot Cuda that we almost ran into in 6 feet of water 200 feet from the popular beach. No bad behavior but it prompted me to do an online search, finding this page. Glad to be better informed and happy to have DAN insurance for my wife and I- I’m a new diver- first warm water dive yesterday. So nice to be in a short suit instead of a dry suit whichs keeps me warm in our amazing but chiily Vancouver Island waters. I’ve seen a number of barracudas snorkeling, but never big. This thing made us need a bathing suit change after we got out of the water!

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  27. Yes, that is precisely what the local dive operators felt had caused it. They joked that the barracuda had a contract on me from the Marine Park, because their top people used to toss meat to this same barracuda from a boat to impress important guests, in violation of Mexican Federal Law banning fish feeding in National Marine Parks. But they all said that if they were asked they would have to lie, because if they told the truth they would lose their licenses to operate in the Marine Park.

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  28. It is interesting how many of the reports are linked to feeding of fish in the area of agressive barracuda behavior.
    The incident with Thomas Goreau – is the barracuda agressive and “expecting food” because it has been continuously fed by the park authorities?

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  29. St. John, June 2001: my family was snorkeling at Francis Bay when we encountered a large barracuda, maybe 4 feet. When I first spotted it I was with my 14 year old. It was directly ahead of us swimming toward us slowly with its mouth slightly open, lots of teeth showing. We kept slowly swimming in the direction we were going straight toward it. When it was less than about 6 feet away it slowly made a 90 degree turn toward deeper water (we were in water about 10 feet deep). It all happened very quickly. I didn’t think to look behind to see if it was following us. Later when my husband and 12 year old were returning they saw it too, in about the same area. I wondered at that time how afraid I should have been. The 14 year old only saw the tail end of it as it swam away and I was glad of that because that fish sure was big and mean looking and I didn’t want her to panic when she saw those teeth. That was the biggest meanest looking fish I have ever seen while snorkeling.

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  30. Grand Cayman:

    On a trip to the Caymans Jan 2011, snorkeling on the North Side (Kiwi Kai) my wife and I encountered a 4-5 foot Cuda in 10 feet of water.

    Being a diver you are aware that Cudas are in the water with you and they are just part of the environment. But this day was different. No shiny elements, no sudden movements, clear with great vis, just a great day exploring the water.

    The fish approached in a lateral position showing it’s full size and girth. We stopped together looking at each other and looking at this road block. We both tried to continue with our snorkel and ignore our visitor knowing it
    would just move on just like all the other times. Not today, we decided to retreat to the safety of the beach. As we swam on our backs keeping the Cuda in sight behind our fins, it looked like it was curving its body for a fast strike. The odd behavior was when my wife would drift off to my side from being behind me and the Cuda would adjust it’s angle for a better striking position. This happended several times over 2-3 min. I put my body between the fish and my wife and it would just adjust the angle and move into a better position. I have never seen this before.

    Strange that there is a similar post above?

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  31. I dove with Dr. Goreau today to shoot the new Biorock installation off Lauderdale By-The-Sea, FL. I have an image of him waving at me at: http://www.fksa.org/albums/album04/Tom_Goreau_GOPR3410.jpg The red-brown stuff is rust from moving the rebar reef array around. You can see the missing finger and dissimilar skin from the tissue graft. It is a rough way to have to prove a point, for my part I would be happier to see five fingers on a healthy hand. Trouble is, it didn’t happen that way.

    I had a friend suffer a barracuda attack while spearfishing on the Sambos off Key West a few years back. I wrote up an account about the accident, see below. I researched the incidence of reported barracuda attacks for the writeup thinking they might be fairly common. After all, barracudas are extremely common in some waters, are frequently aggressive and hit shiny objects, etc.. Despite this, reported barracuda attacks seemed to be quite rare strangely enough. Perhaps they are more common, we just don’t hear about them. My friend’s story appears at: http://fksa.org/showthread.php?t=4183

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  32. I was also just recently in St. John snorkeling at Trunk Bay. I had a similar incident with a similarly sized barracuda. I spotted it under some reef and stopped to look for a few minutes. After awhile I was about to lose interest and continue on the barracuda came out from with underneath the rocks and started to make a half circle around me. It seemed to be staring at me for what seemed like hours with its mouth wide open. I stayed relatively still while trying to make some distance between it and myself. It swam a half circle towards me about 10 or so feet away. At this time it turned, closed its mouth and darted away in a flash. As I was swimming backwards back to the beach, so I didn’t turn my back on it, the barracuda came out of nowhere within about 3 or 4 feet and stopped dead in front of me. I put my arms down at my sides and continued toward the beach. Once in shallow water the barracuda retreated back towards the island where I had originally spotted it. It was 100% showing me its territory. Next time I’m in the water I will be wearing a diving knife and gloves possible even a speargun. That thing scared the heck out of me.

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  33. We were snorkeling in St John (Virgin Islands) toward a small island a few hundred feet away from shore. Half way there we noticed a 3-4 foot solitary barracuda swimming alongside of us about 20 feet away for a few minutes. We stopped and it came right in front of us about 20 feet away and it came to a dead stop in front of us seemingly to block our path and stared us down with its mouth open. We weren’t sure what to do so we stayed put also for a few minutes. It became a staring match for more than 5 minutes. Ultimately, the two of us decided to hold hands and spread our arms wide hoping to appear like a very large single creature. After less than a minute of this posture, the barracuda just swam away and we never saw it again for the rest of the snorkeling day. Since then we have purchased diving knives and thanks to this blog, will be purchasing gloves now.

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  34. All kinds of Barracuda lurking around the Sheraton Beach Resort at Cable Beach Nassau Bahamas. At first I saw only small ones hovering over the sea grass, but yesterday as I snorkeled by the middle pile of rocks in the roped of swimming area. I saw a two footer hovering just over the sandy bottom right in the rocks where all the tourists look at the pretty fish. This place is an attack waiting to happen. The tourists constantly feed the fish there.

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  35. Back in the late 1970s I was doing masters research in St. Criox’s Buck Island National Park. One of my sites, where I would sit on scuba in 20 feet of water for an hour measuring sea grass blades, had a resident large (4foot?) Barracuda, and the are was often of limited visability. He/she always gave met the willies, as he/she was often in sight when I raised my head, a body-length or 2 away, at my side, watching ….One day, after a few months of twice weekly visits, thankfully near the end of my research period in St. Croix, while kneeling on the bottom after almost an hour, he/she came at me–twice–once to my left and once to my right, VERY fast and VERY close, but made no contact. Scared me out of my wits. I think he/she was just re-confirming its territory, as I was clearly no threat, had no food, had nothing shiny, was a regular familiar non-threatening visitor. But I have ALWAYs respected the power and unpredictablility of solitary barracudas. I have swum with schools of smaller (2-3 foot?) cudas in many seas around the world and had no fear or incident, just awe. But solitary cudas are definately worth keeping an eye on and away from.

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  36. My story is a little different. I JUST came back from Xpu-ha, Mexico, this is an area in the Riviera Maya section of Mexico. During my stay at a resort hotel, about 15 -18 feet out from the beach people would feed small fish, while standing in the water. Day two of my vacation at approximately 9 am the lifeguard calls everyone out of the water and a young tourist who was feeding the small fish was attacked by a baracuda. Her thigh was torn open pretty bad and she was taken to the hospital.
    Day 4 another attack, not as severe.

    The funny thing about this is every day that I went into the water I saw this 4 – 5 foot baracuda swimming parallel to the shore, when others were feeding the fish .

    I have snorkeled Mexico for the last 26 years,never seen such an agressive baracuda so close to shore.

    Plus the hotel itself does not tell anyone to be careful. While there in chest high water I also saw an enormous fish that I could swear looked like a mahi mahi. I did not stick around to ID it for sure. But it was hugh.

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  37. Just got out of the water in Grand Cayman. An unusally murky day for the markedly clear waters that surround our island. My buddy and I were snorkeling at a large reef about about 15 feet deep. We see barracuda all the time and I usually have a camera with me and always have a dive computer on. Today, we both had on full wetties, mask, fins, snorkel. My buddy’s fins were a silver coloured plastic and mine a pink coloured plastic.

    As we approached the reef, he hollered at me that there was a barracuda behind me, about 2 yards, and I swam over to him. He had just been attacked by one not two weeks ago on the other side of the island. This one was about 3.5-4′ long. I haven’t heard of one bigger than 5′ here in Cayman.

    Once we were together, we put our faces in the water and our fins towards it – watching, swimming, together – seeing it change colours – as it circled us, coming closer and closer – seemingly pushing us farther and father out from shore which was probably 200 yards away.

    As soon as the cuda disappeared into the murky waters, my buddy swam backwards watching and I pulled him along towards shore swimming forward. A painfully slow process. I removed my dive computer and put it into my wetty and carried on. It wasn’t until we got into standing depth that we stopped our new style of backing out of the situation.

    After coming home, I got online and discovered that barracuda hunt in a fast strike. I haven’t found anything that suggests that they circle, but as it was happening I was certain it would have taken a chunk out of one of us despite there being two of us.

    The tiger of the sea indeed. We hear of barracuda attacking people as they are cleaning the undersides of their boats. But this one come too close for comfort. Time to start using a dive knife and gloves, hey!

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  38. I do not know Dr. Goreau, but I certainly know of him and remember when this happened back in 2004. If he says it was a Cuda and was unprovoked, it was a Cuda and unprovoked.

    I have never been bitten but have been interested in Barracuda behavior for many years. It is my opinion that Barracuda “attacks” are very under-reported, partly because they don’t have that whole “Jaws” mystique and partly because the results are rarely fatal. They did not use to make the headlines and in addition and I think there is a propensity for people to assume an attack was provoked or wasn’t really a barracuda, etc. I can’t recall how many times I have heard dive ops tell people “Oh, they are no threat’ “They are like big puppy dogs” Don’t bother them and they won’t bother you” etc.

    “Provoked” vs. “unprovoked” is an overused concept. Sure, if you spear one and it turns on you (and they can) or you are spearfishing and they come after the fish or you, or you wiggle your fingers at one, we can say that a strike is expected. But I am aware of numerous strikes by Barracuda at regulators, masks, dive cameras, camera strobes, etc., and I learned not to shine a dive light on them at night. I am not sure whether it looks like prey or just pisses them off, but at least some of them will respond aggressively. I suspect they are also attracted to shiny jewelry and such. Does that make a strike “provoked?” And does it really matter?

    They are stunningly capable predators and I believe they also can seem to be, in human terms, cranky and perhaps territorial. I am not at all sure that some attacks are not simply the Cuda driving off what it sees as a possible competitor.

    If you dive and snorkel you can hardly avoid them, but I am very wary of them. They are under-appreciated as a danger. I am sure Dr. Goreau and another half dozen or so other people I know of in recent years would be amused to know that their encounters were statistcally unviable.

    We need to understand and respect their capabilites, and after all, it is their world.

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  39. @Wilt, that’s right, a respected scientist has made all this up to create story to cover how he really lost his little finger….. Did Elvis tell you to write that from his secret base on the moon?

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  40. I just returned from Cozumel. I did a shore dive at Chankanaab, and swam right up to a barracuda (obviously not realizing what it was). At a distance of about 3 feet, I noticed its mouth partially open, and could see the teeth. I got away from it as fast as I could!

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  41. Pennycamp State Park, in 1995. Our divemaster was showing off by feeding bait fish, out of his hand, to a well-known, six-foot long barracuda named Psycho. After a few fish, we swam about 50 feet over to where a resident green moray eel was waiting for the same treatment. As the divemaster waved the fish for the moray, Psycho, who was still around, struck his hand from over his shoulder and removed two fingers. The divemaster was able to grab the fingers and they were reattached surgically, but with severe damage. Add this (provoked) attack to the list.

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  42. I have some doubt that a Cuda might have bitten him. It so he was probably feeding them for photos or to show off. Cudas don’t attack people without a reason, sparking fishing lures or food.

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  43. I have been a scuba instructor for 37 years and always parroted the the accepted message that there is no known account of barracuda attacks. I tell my students to respect any marine life. Now I will tell them to give greater respect to barracudas.

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  44. Thanks to the author and to undercurrents for also including the information on the bigger reef danger (unbridled… “profit motive”).

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  45. The article doesn’t mention if he had gloves on. I was always told never to dive without with barracuda around.

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  46. Looe Key reef, Fl Keys. On a night dive I was carrying a light in my left hand. I also had on a fairly flashy watch on that wrist. About 5 minutes into the dive i felt a really hard hit to my left wrist and dropped my light. I saw a fast silver Barracuda streak off. I guess I was lucky that it’s mouth must have been closed and I got away with a nice little bruise. I was really surprised because on every dive I have made there I see a lot of them. There is always a big one under the boat! I’m not freaked out, but I think I will start to treat then like sharks with caution and respect

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  47. A couple of comments worth noting:

    I think the largest barracuda ever taken and recorded weighed in at 110 pounds. Think about the bite that fish could give you. And it was over ten feet long!

    Other than incidents of incidental bites from spearfishing activities, the only documented bites from barracuda that I have ever known of in my 40-year career were from fish that had been conditioned to feeding by diving guides. When the expectation of food is ingrained, the fish reacts to certain behavior including such simple things as gestures, e.g. extended hands. We had a bad bite in 1989 aboard the Ocean Quest ship in Honduras to a diver who was simply extending her hands and waving at a large barracuda. The fish approached her closely several times and finally bit her hand severely. I grabbed her and brought her to the surface, tightly wrapped the wound, and transported her back to the ship where our doctor put 36 stitches in her with full recovery. An exciting morning…

    Finally, dive operator Spencer Slate developed a reputation for feeding barracuda off Key Largo. He put small bait fish in his mouth and conditioned large barracuda to swoop in and snatch them from his own teeth as he held the bait by the tail with his head extended. Great photo opportunity for his guests! Ask him about how many times he got bitten over the years. I don’t think he is still practicing this little crowd-pleaser any more.

    Barracuda should be respected. But the real threat of an unprovoked bite is almost statistically unviable. But use common sense. The fish tend to do what we taught them. It’s their world… we just get to visit briefly. I have spent hundreds of hours with massive schools of barracuda only inches away from my camera in PNG, the Solomons, Indonesia, Micronesia, Cocos, the Caribbean, the Bahamas, etc. I’ve never had a problem and never known anyone else that did either.

    The account related by Tom Goreau in this article is unfortunate and he has my sincerest sympathy as something of an “innocent bystander” but probably more can be learned about how he was handled in the aftermath than worrying about some rogue barracuda laying in wait for you.

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  48. I understand the dive shop’s reluctance to have their name published for fear of bad publicity when I read “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.” Perhaps there is more to the story, but based on what I read, I would expect a dive operation to ensure the injured diver gets medical attention…call an ambulance, arrange a taxi, do something!

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  49. I remember coming back from a dive in the annexe boat of the then Tahiti Aggressor at the lagoon at one of the lesser Tuamotos, to see the stewardess feeding a large barracuda at the stern. When I say ‘large’ I mean really large. It was probably more than 3 metres (10 feet) in length. I have never seen one so big or massive before or since even though I have seen big ones in the Yemeni Red Sea. When it swam off there was a wake from its tail. I can quite imagine something that big being very dangerous indeed if it wanted to take a bite.

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  50. I just returned from Cozumel and was pleased because I got some pretty close video of a small school of barracuda. I’ll definitely have a new perspective when I watch it. It’ll be the last time I put myself so close to them. Thanks for a great article.

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