The Department of Environment (DOE) is warning the public to be cautious when feeding animals in the wild. It comes after a tourist was treated for wounds following coming into contact with a Barracuda on Saturday (13 July). While Stingray City sandbar is home to wildlife encounters. DOE’s Research and Assessment deputy director Tim Austin said when it comes to feeding, public safety is an important consideration.
“We do see an increased level of aggression towards humans, either deliberate it or accidentally when you are in these fish feeding environments. It’s one of the reasons we have the wildlife interaction zones that DOE has worked really hard to try and limit the amount of fish feeding interaction with wild animals that go on around the islands because it’s very well-known, as soon as you start interacting with wild animals and feeding them that aggressive behavior develops,” said Mr. Austin.
After Saturday’s incident, in which a male American visitor was struck by a Barracuda at Stingray City. Mr. Austin is urging the public to be aware of their surroundings when out in the ocean. “They were jacks and other fish in the area and the Barracuda was reportedly chasing those jacks to feed and unfortunately struck the gentleman rather than the fish. They can be territorial, but they also could be migrant and just passing through an area. In this particular incident within the research that the DOE did following the incident. We did establish that this was not a regular visitor to the sandbar,” said Mr. Austin.
While there are many ways to avoid the Caribbean apex predator, Mr. Austin emphasizes on feeding fish while a Barracuda is nearby. “If they do seem to be swimming around you and getting a little close for comfort, take your time and exit the water and wait for it to pass, if you are fish feeding immediately stop. Spear fisherman know what they’re doing, and they know the dangers of Barracudas and sharks,” said Mr. Austin.
The Barracuda is a large fish with a fearsome appearance and an untamed behavior. It is found in tropical and subtropical oceans worldwide ranging from the eastern border of the Atlantic Ocean to the western border the Caribbean Sea. “Their teeth are literally razor-sharp, I’ve seen it myself. I’ve watched them chop a grouper in half, they just hit it hard and fast enough and that’s their method of attack. It’s like a knife passing through it,” said Mr. Austin.
Besides traditional fishermen’s bait and small fish, Mr. Austin said, other things can catch the attention of the Barracuda. “A flash of silver indicates a fish that is injured or running, so they will strike that. So people with shiny jewelry are at risk but that doesn’t happen here in Cayman,” said Mr. Austin.