A school of Barracuda.
Photo: Genevieve Johnson
April 5, 2001
This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from Madang, Papua New Guinea.
There are countless areas to dive in this part of the world. The waters surrounding Papua New Guinea are vivid and teeming with an unparalleled diversity of life, while the array of environments are equally impressive. Just the other day, some of the crew went diving in an area where we experienced both reef and pelagic fish, and dramatic deep-water drop offs, alongside delicate coral gardens.
We dove an area the locals call Echuca Patch, its cool depths now home to an old Taiwanese fishing vessel, the 'Deyang'. We learned that the Deyang in its 'hey day' made a living from illegal fishing, predominantly profiting from the wasteful practice of shark finning. When the Deyang was seized for its poaching activities, it was used by authorities as bait. Its outward appearance, a perfect means to approach and apprehend other illegal fishing vessels. After a successful undercover career, the Deyang was unceremoniously sunk. Its working life of destruction now repaid in part by its role as an artificial reef beneath the sea, hosting a complex community of fish, worms, crabs and corals.
As we descended the anchor line, the blurred contour of the Deyang gradually sharpened. Once on the bottom, we began to explore the wreck. Every porthole, every area of the deck played host to some from of marine life. While moving over the top of the pilothouse from the port to the starboard side, I suddenly realized that we were enclosed by a huge circling mass of silver and blue stripes. There was no mistaking the cylindrical elongated bodies, large mouths and protruding knife like teeth of the barracuda.
Barracudas endure a fearsome reputation, renowned as being a veracious predator they are quite capable of cutting a large parrotfish in two with a single bite. While it is true, attacks on humans have been recorded, more often than not, such attacks occur as a result of provocation such as being speared, or a simple case of mistaken identity. They tend to be attracted to reflective metal surfaces, flashes that may appear to mimic the flashing bodies of their preferred prey species.
These rapidly growing, schooling fish are regular visitors to coastal waters and offshore reefs. We had been told we may encounter this impressive species, the largest of which can reach a length of two meters or 6 feet and live for up to twelve years. Apart from a mouth full of pointed teeth, it is the unique body shape of the Barracuda that renders it virtually impossible to confuse with any other.
Structural adaptations, or body shape, mean fish are able to swim through the water with reduced energy expenditure. This allows for more energy to be concentrated on growth and reproduction. Different species of fish have evolved specific body shapes, which are suitable to the environment in which they live. For example, reef fish have developed a variety of body shapes that are more suitable to camouflage and maneuverability in an environment where speed is not the most critical factor. Conversely, the streamlined body of the tuna, means this fish has perfected the ability to maintain continuous, high speed cruising over incredibly long distances. The long, skinny body of the Barracuda is designed for rapid acceleration, sprints over short distances. Perhaps their elongated bodies reduce their chances of being seen and recognized as they rush their prey of small fishes, which include sardines, anchovies and small pelagics.
We encountered the large school, presumably the same one, just prior to our ascent. Once again they formed an ever tightening circle around us, perhaps a meter away at the closest point, swimming lazily by with pointed teeth and a slightly jutting lower jaw moving up and down. This action is often mistaken for aggression, but is simply an effective means of pumping more water over the gills.
The silver school gently rose forming a beautiful spiraling silhouette against the surface light until they disappeared from view.
Log by Genevieve Johnson