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Habits

fish, barracuda, schools, seen and barracudas

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HABITS.

Little is known about the habits of the barracuda, hence the few notes that have been collected in the course of this research may be of value. The fish seems in the main to be rather solitary. Only once was a school of them noticed. The water at Loggerhead Key being too shallow for an anchorage for our yacht, the Anton Dohrn, she was kept tied up to a buoy in the deep channel southeast of the sally-port of Fort Jefferson on Garden Key. Around the Dohrn thus anchored a small school of barracudas could sometimes be seen, and 6 or 8 fish were noticed on June 23, 1912. They were possibly attracted by the scraps thrown overboard from the galley; at any rate they were made bold by hunger, for, after one of them had been struck with the grains and wounded, another one of the school was taken on a trolling spoon thrown out and rapidly pulled in by hand. The appearance and attitudes of the members of this band are faithfully shown in Bullen's (1904) figure reproduced opposite page 55.

On one other occasion what may perhaps be described as a small school was seen. While trolling one day between Loggerhead and Bird Keys I had a heavy strike and, on hauling in, brought a large barracuda to the surface. Remarkable to say this had as a companion on either side a barracuda nearly as large as itself. These had their heads in the region of the right and left pectoral fins of the captive. For this no explanation can be offered. When the captive was brought nearer the boat, its companions disappeared.

The earliest reference to the fish called Sphyrcena is in Aristotle's "History of Animals" (Book ix, chap. 3, 610 b, 5),where it is listed among fishes that go in schools. Rondelet (1558), however, says nothing about such a habit, nor do Cuvier and Valenciennes (1829) refer to it, but they say of S. guachancho that "This species travels in companies, and there are sometimes taken together more than 200 individuals, all of the same size." Finally, Henderson (1916) speaks of the picudas or barracudas (maximum length 6 feet) ranging the water in schools or squadrons. Whether or not Cuvier and Valenciennes, and Henderson also, had in mind the subject of this paper, the great barracuda, can not, of course, be said. There are at least three species of the genusSphyrcena found in the West Indies, and all are commonly called barracudas.

In support of the present writer's contention that the big barracuda is solitary rather than social, Holder may be quoted (1903, p. 90; 1910, p. 125) ; and Holder has known this fish as no other scientific man ever has. This declaration of Holder's is concurred in by Bullen (1904), who says of the West Indian species that it is a morose and solitary fish, that even two are seldom seen together—in short that it seems to be a "comparatively scanty species." As to the California barracuda (S. argentea), Holder says that it "runs in schools, some of which have been seen miles in extent." And of the South Pacific form, Bullen (1904), speaking of New Zealand waters, says that "In no other place have I seen the Barracouta swim in schools of hundreds of thousands, almost as closely packed as mackerel." Ward (1907) succinctly says that on the east coast of Australia it goes "in schools which rival those of the herring and mackerel for numbers and dense ness." At Beaufort, North Carolina, the present writer has frequently taken as many as a dozen of the young of S. borealis at one haul of a 100-foot seine, and it may be that the young of the big barracuda go in schools.

However, so far as the present writer's experience goes, the large fish are rather solitary, and such individuals are frequently to be found lying motionless near the surface of the water around large coral heads reaching nearly to the surface, around buoys, channel stakes, wharves, wrecks, etc. One or more individuals could be found almost every day of the season of 1912 "hanging around" our western dock at Loggerhead. Three other kinds of fish had the same habit at the same place, i. e., gars, gray snappers, and "minnows." The last two kinds plainly came to get fish scraps from dissections and debris thrown overboard by the cook and they were prompt in their attend ance. The gars, and in large degree the snappers also, fed largely on the minnows, while the barracudas fed on all three indiscriminately. Considerable sport was had shooting these gars with a 22-caliber rifle, but after wounding or killing them none was ever secured, for the barracudas snapped them up at once. However, in turn these were often taken with baited hooks.

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