The yellowmouth barracuda (Sphyraena viridensis) is one the most emblematic species for the scuba diver in the Mediterranean Sea. Many ignore that “our” barracuda is endemic to the Med and very different from its tropical cousin, the great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda), well known for its sharp teeth and its not seldom aggressiveness. Nonetheless it also prefers warm waters, and this is why its observations have progressively increased in the last years even along the northern coasts.
Its aspect unveils its predatory nature, being slender and hydrodynamic. It feeds mostly on smaller fish, including its own babies… Interesting enough, juveniles and adults behave very differently. The youngsters dwell on posidonia meadows, hardly deeper than 5 meters and always in schools. Last year, one of these schools was based right in front of our beloved Blunauta Diving Center’s headquarters in Capo Milazzo, where we used to anchor for the night!
Adults, on the other hand, move offshore to gather around shallows and steep walls especially in summer and autumn (little is known about their fate in wintertime). Anyhow, during the day they stay in schools, nice and calm. The most impressive ones we know are in Ustica’s Secca della Colombara and Secchitello and in Marettimo’s Cala Bianca (see video), the worst kept secrets among Italy’s diving spots. Yet we systematically observe schools also in Lampione, in Linosa’s Balata Piatta, in Filicudi’s Capo Graziano, and in Capo Milazzo’s Secca di Ponente, all of them part of our itineraries! Some divers would just stand still for hours to admire these hypnotic, mysterious, chromatically changing gatherings…
Everything changes in the night: schools break up and the lonely barracudas come ashore to hunt. Once in Ustica, with our great friend Bruno who authors some of the pictures in this website, we indeed witnessed such behavior: we dove very late in the afternoon, and not only the big school had disappeared, but all the barracudas were darting right in front of us in a frenzy, like many chaotic arrows!
A last couple of facts. Yellowmouth barracudas have a series of vertical dark patches along their back. Now, if you dare count them patiently, hovering without scuffing, you’ll always end up with a number between 20 and 23. They can live up to ten years and the reproduction takes place between April (rather in the southern regions of the Med) and August (in the northern ones).
Finally, although they look haughty and invincible, even the largest specimens can become a prey. If you’re convinced that they don’t break their perfect vortex even when scuba divers approach, wait to see what happens when a big fat amberjack comes close. Only a few have had the chance, in Ustica, to see a long tail hanging half-way outside one of these amberjack’s mouth. ‘Cause, remember: there’s always a mightier one out there…