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The barracudas (all in the genus Sphyraena) are easily recognized by their very elongate and little compressed bodies, large mouth with protruding pointed lower jaw, very large compressed teeth, and two widely separated dorsal fins, the first of five spines, and the second of one spine and nine soft rays.
As their awesome dentition would suggest, they are carnivorous, feeding mainly on other fishes. The Great Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) has been known to inflict severe wounds on humans, but nearly all attacks have taken place in murky water where a limb might be mistaken for a fish, or from provocation (as by spearing). In clear water without anything that might be attracting, such as a wounded fish struggling on a spear or a metal object that flashes in the sun, there should be no reason to fear a barracuda.
Some species form schools by day and disperse at night to feed. Others, such as S. barracuda, are diurnal and usually solitary. Only two species are positively known from the Hawaiian Islands, but the author recently observed an adult of S. qenie Kluzinger near South Point on the Kona coast of Hawai'i.
Sphyraena barracuda (Walbaum, 1792) Kaku
Dark gray on back, silvery below; adults usually with a few scattered spots, mainly on lower posterior half of body; caudal fin with a large black area on upper and lower lobes (also often on second dorsal fin); subadults and juveniles with slightly oblique dark bars on back; lateral-line scales 69-90. Reported to 5.5 feet (1.7 m); world angling record 87 lbs. (38.5 kg). Circumglobal in tropical and subtropical seas. New World fishes lack the large black area in the second dorsal and caudal fin lobes. Often implicated in ciguatera poisoning. The young occur in shallow estuarine or mangrove areas.
Sphyraena helleri (Jenkins, 1901) Kaku
Silvery with iridescence and two brassy stripes on side of body: eye large; lateral-line scales 120-135; a single gill raker (none in S. barracuda). Grows to 32 inches (80 cm). Central and western Pacific. Forms large, essentially stationary schools by day; presumed to disperse individually to feed at night.
All information and pictures in this section are from John E. Randall's Shore Fishes of Hawai'i by permission of the author.
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