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CRITTER: Meet kaku the barracuda

That is not a big shark! It’s kaku the barracuda!

I was snorkeling at ‘Anini Beach in Kaua‘i right in the surf in three feet deep of water when I saw what I thought was a big shark slowly approaching me. What was a six-foot-long, 100-pound shark doing in such shallow water. As it got close I realized it was not a shark but a huge barracuda with its mouth partially open, displaying a rack of giant sharp teeth! It was the most-threatening-looking predator I have ever seen, and I have dove with thousands of big sharks in my life.

Kaku the giant barracuda is long and round, like a torpedo, and very fast.

They like to hunt for small fish right in the shallow surf because their silver color blends in with the bubbles and sunshine from above so they are almost invisible.

Large barracuda have been known to bite swimmers, and there are more documented barracuda “attacks” than “shark attacks.”

Kaku is not trying to eat swimmers, but it is chasing around schools of bait snapping at them with their huge teeth and sometimes humans in the area get accidentally bitten.

Spearfishermen who try to spear a large barracuda are likely to get bitten!

In old Hawai‘i, fishermen used to hunt with large wild kaku.

They would go out in their wooden-hulled canoes and hand feed a large barracuda ‘opelu, which is a mackerel scad bait fish.

Once the kaku was trained to follow the boat for a free meal, the fishermen would paddle around until they found a large school of ‘opelu.

The barracuda would naturally start circling the bait, and condense it into a tight ball that the fishermen could throw a net over. After hauling the huge bait ball into the canoe the fishermen would throw back a handful of dead ‘opelu for kaku to eat. Everybody wins!

Kaku are actually more dangerous to eat then we worry about them eating us. The large barracuda often carry a natural fish toxin called ciguatera that can make someone very ill if you eat a lot of the fish.

The Hawaiian barracuda taste very good! Much better than other Pacific barracuda or Caribbean barracuda, and I sometimes do eat them when one of my fishermen friends catches one.

With a fish that may have ciguatera I always just eat a dime-size bite of the meat and wait for five hours.

If it is ciguatoxic it will give you a little bit of a stomach ache but won’t hurt you.

Ciguatera is a neurotoxin, and the more you eat the more reaction you will have.

After eating a small bite and waiting for at least six hours you can consume all the fish you want without worry if you had no reaction to the small bite.

I actually do this practice with all of the fish species I catch or get from friends and here on Kaua‘i. Eating the local fish for 20 years, I have never had a ciguatoxic fish.

You can see kaku the barracuda in action in my movie “The World’s Guide To Hawaiian Reef Fish” up on my underwater educational web page at www.underwater2web, and also see other barracuda species from around the world in my worldwide marine-life series on my YouTube at Underwater2web.


Terry Lilley is a marine biologist living in Hanalei, Kaua‘i, and co-founder of Reef Guardians Hawai‘i, a nonprofit on a mission to provide education and resources to protect the coral reef. To donate to Reef Guardians Hawaii go to
Source: The Garden Island

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