It's come to my attention that a barracuda in the Florida Keys seriously injured a kayaker last October. She was paddling along some shallows when a cuda began launching itself once, twice, and on the third time struck her.
This was a serious wound, no doubt, one you can see in numerous reports if you wish by simply Googling "woman survives barracuda." And any angler who's released barracuda can appreciate just how serious the dentures of these things can be.
What struck me from all this was far less painful than what struck this kayaker, but it nags at me.
I'm talking about the emphasis in a CBS News report (and other reports) on the word "attacked," as in she was "attacked by a barracuda." Such sensationalist verbiage might work well for exploiting the emotion that humans tend to feel when some lesser critter wreaks bodily harm upon us. But it does a disservice to any animal involved if the viewing public accepts the implications of a word like that.
After all, to "attack" is defined (by dictionary.com) as "to set upon in a forceful, violent, hostile or aggressive way" or "to start an offensive."
That makes barracuda sound pretty malevolent. I can accept malevolent as a concept applied to Homo sapiens, not to mention the rabbit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But I don't believe this 'cuda or any out there is swimming about looking for humans to jump on.
Indeed, the very "attack" as described should offer evidence to any angler who knows fish behavior, as many do, that this predator was chasing down some prey. That is what motivates barracuda to hurl themselves from the water repeatedly; I've seen them do it chasing baitfish - and my surface plugs. This most unfortunate kayaker just happened to be in the exactly the wrong place at the wrong moment, getting in the way of a big fish with big teeth in a very determined rush to grab some dinner.
In fact, lacerations by jumping barracuda are hardly unknown.
I love to kayak fish. Yes, such a thing could happen to me. I won't stop kayaking, nor will I start wearing a Kevlar vest. I'll take comfort in knowing that while something like this could happen, the odds are infinitesimally minute. Granted, if I believed barracuda like this one were waiting to attack me, I'd probably not go near the water. I just hope news reports like these don't put such fears into a wider public.
My friend and Sport Fishing Fish Facts expert Ray Waldner agrees with this premise. Ray is an expert's expert on things ichthyological. He's also got a sharp sense of humor and suggests, along these lines, checking out comic Tim Bedor's shtick: "The Animal Conspiracy — An Inconvenient Horror." Google it and see.