Friendly Barry
November 2010

by Natalie Novak

I was six or seven the first time I snorkeled in Akumal Bay. I went out on a boat with my father and I remember the first time I saw that sleek fish. It was as long as I was, with its mouth full of pointy teeth slowly opening and closing. I swam quickly over to my father and said, "Daddy, Daddy, is that a shark?" And he calmly said, "No, honey, that is not a shark." But I could hear the tension in his voice and I remember that he steered me slowly away from the scary fish.

After we got back in the boat, I asked my father again if we had seen a shark, and he replied, "That was not a shark, Natty ... that was a barracuda." I remember the way he said it, and I remember thinking that a barracuda must be a pretty serious thing to make my father swim the other way.

Barracudas look scary, but they are not mean or aggressive. They are, however, curious. They often seem to hang around and stare. After some time diving with them, I discovered why.

Often small, silver fish take cover around a big fish. It is common to see large grouper and even barracuda with a school of small jacks around them. The jacks stay too close to their fish for it to build up the speed it needs to catch them, and other fish are unlikely to strike the small fish so close to a big predator, except for the barracuda.

So, when a barracuda is watching you, most of the time it is not really interested in you; it is looking for something small and shiny, like fish, around you. I have seen divemasters make barracuda strike by dropping their knives into the sand. This is a mean trick, releasing the knife point-down, causing it to spin and shine. The shine attracts the barracuda, which expects a fish and instead strikes against the blade of the knife.

However, in thousands of dives, I have never seen an unprovoked barracuda strike a snorkeler or diver. I wear medium-sized silver earrings and the first stage of my regulator is silver and shiny, and yet I have never had a problem with barracuda. I do advise against wearing anything that looks like a fishing lure while snorkeli