First Snorkel with Toothed Demon

From James Aliberti’s first trip to Puerto Rico to work as a biologist on The Mona Island Iguana Project:

I’ll never forget the first time I snorkeled in Puerto Rico. Having just landed and the luxury of half a day to kill while our principle investigator arranged transport to Cabo Rojo on the far west side of the island, I walked across the blinding-white coral sand to the water’s edge. I could see the islands of Vieques and Culebra in the distance, and as I smoothly descended into the warm turquoise waters, I noticed right away an abundance of tropical fish. 

As I kicked out gently and quietly, I suddenly felt a presence. A 5-foot long Great Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) closely following me. Only using its pectoral fins for propulsion, I found its diagonal angle in the water quite interesting. It just seemed to observe; wondering if I would produce any opportunities for food. Hanging back over my left shoulder, and then my right shoulder, about 3 feet from my fins, it never approached me any closer than that. It wanted to leave room to dart and strike! 

I stopped a few times to admire it, keeping my edible-looking cocktail-wiener fingers balled into tight fists. I couldn’t help but notice its gruesome grimace of fangs, its mouth agape. Never did it make so much as a move, or any sort of aggression toward me, but I knew how fast it could jet through the water without a moment’s notice, and how slashingly sharp its teeth could be. Eventually moving back inshore, I rose to exit the water, never to see my barracuda friend again; and never to forget it. 

Respect the ocean. Respect Caribbean waters. Y Respeta La Barracuda!

Returning up the beach, I ran into Piggy and Carlos, our two expedition grad students. With a chill still running up my spine, I told them of my encounter. Carlos, a Puerto Rican native, chuckled and said, “Welcome to Puerto Rico, Flaco. Welcome to the islands of paradise. Ha ha ha haaaa.” 

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