"Fear has its use but cowardice has none. "
~ Mahatma Gandhi

SCUBA Diving


Barracuda - Poetry in Motion


Rajiv Butalia is a tie-and-jacket executive, who lets his hair down during vacations to follow his soul to where it leads him. A one-time national swimmer, he is a trekking enthusiast who has tried his hand at power flying and river rafting and has now found a new passion in SCUBA diving.

I have done 5 dives on this particular shipwreck. Suzy's Wreck lies off Sao George Island, accessed from Dona Paula beach in Goa. My last four dives were just for the awesome experience of ending the dive with an encounter with this particular school of barracuda. A truly awesome, experience.

Barracuda normally hang around in schools both for purposes of predation as well as preservation. My school consists of around 50 or so individuals.

gently drifting, 10 meters down,
and then-
a wondrous shock of barracuda

In the barracuda experience, you don't know who is watching whom. The school just suspends itself to one spot, "hanging around'. Silver pencil shapes, sleek, present, silent, motionless and suspended. And large unblinking eyes watch.

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dancing in the deep
46 barracuda and I
wary eyes

5 dives in the same spot and I had not yet seen any other behaviour. When predatory, or provoked, they move so fast, that if you blink or lose concentration the attack is over.

All my encounters were close. The first one quite by accident, and the others by intention. The experience was sheer visual and sensory poetry. The wreck is in three pieces. Ascending slowly along the bow section, I reached the edge and after sweeping the water gently with my hands to scout for Scorpion fish I held on. There they were, about 10 feet from me..the school of 46. Suspended and motionless. We watched each other.

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A gentle drift brought them closer. The distance was now approx 6 ft. and fairly unnerving. I was not yet alarmed as they were not facing me. When the nearest was 5 ft distance, I moved away.

The most unnerving experience is when they are close and all around you. In contrast to the primal fear that they evoke, and the myths, the fact is that they do not attack humans unprovoked.

So for a great barracuda experience, don't carry wounded or dead fish, for feeding to morays, etc. In any case this is not a good practice as they start expecting food from all divers and may attack others when they don't get fed.

Barracuda get stimulated by light flashes. So no flashy rings, or removing dive knives please. Just stay quiet and watchful and avoid behaviour like waving at them etc. Reported attacks on face masks and regulators are probably a result of the sun shining on the equipment and attracting a nervous response. Avoid fluorescent clothing or pieces of such tape. Gentle motions are the order of the day so try not to swim like a fish in distress. Since barracuda, unlike sharks, primarily use vision for sensing and assessing both predators and prey, just be cautious when visibility is low. Primarily to avoid mistaken identity. Because in low visibility they may attack. And if they do, believe me, you will have no time to react.

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Most of us will recognise a barracuda instantly, but nevertheless look out for long, slender shapes with small scales, a large mouth with a sharp set of fangs, and a protruding lower jaw. The tail fin is forked, and the two dorsal fins are widely separated.

I have now approached them from all prudent angles, except from on top, an approach normally associated with predators. The SCUBA equipment makes the approach fairly noticeable, with the bright clothing and streaming bubbles. But within the constraints it is possible to merge with the surroundings and just give in to one of the most wonderful sights one will get to see on planet earth.


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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.