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California barracuda

California barracuda ©Joe Swallia

Not on Exhibit

Animal Facts

  • Scientific Name

    Sphyraena argentea

  • Animal Type


  • Diet

    small fish such as anchovies, sardines, young pacific mackerels, jack mackerels, grunions and squid

  • Size

    length to four feet (1.2 m); weight to 18 pounds (8 kg)

  • Relatives

    Mexican barracuda, great barracuda, yellowtail barracuda; Family: Sphyraenidae

  • Habitat

    Open Waters

  • Range

    Alaska to Baja California, Mexico, usually south of Point Conception except during El Niños

Natural History

Long and slender, barracuda sport bluish or brownish backs and silvery sides. Known for their large mouths full of sharp, fanglike teeth, barracuda are aggressive hunters. They move slowly and then burst towards their prey and take large, snapping bites with their powerful jaws.

Young barracuda live in bays, marinas and under the canopies of kelp forests. Juveniles and adults form thin schools near shore—sometimes over an area of many miles. Often large, tight schools of barracuda herd prey into shallow water, where they're easily caught.


The rapidly developing purse seine fishery in the 1900s heavily targeted barracuda. Barracuda populations greatly decreased until the early 1940s. Today, the population has increased to near record levels for several reasons: state regulations established size and bag limits; commercial fisheries began using gill nets instead of purse seines; and barracuda fell out of favor as a food fish. Sport fishing for barracuda is still popular. California regulations state size and bag limits for this fish.

If you go fishing for barracuda, you can help conserve these fish by using lures with one hook rather than three. This lessens mouth injuries in fish you throw back. Also, hold them on non-abrasive surfaces to prevent fatal skin injuries.

Cool Facts

Most two-year-old California barracuda are sexually mature. At that age, females may produce 50,000 eggs. Older females can produce 200,000 to 400,000 eggs. More than one spawning may occur during the breeding season. 

Some species of barracuda migrate between southern California and Baja California. In the late spring and early summer they move north in an organized fashion from Baja California into southern California. In the autumn their migration south to Baja is less dependable. Some barracuda stay put.

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