Pelican Barracuda

Pelican Barracuda, Sphyraena idiastes

The Pelican Barracuda, Sphyraena idiastes, whose common Spanish name is barracuda pelícano, is a species in the Barracuda or Sphyraenidae Family, known collectively as barracudas in Mexico. Globally, there are twenty-six species in the genus Sphyraena, eight of which are found in Mexican waters, three in the Atlantic and five in the Pacific.

The Pelican Barracudas are characterized by their overall barracuda-like appearance, predominant silver coloration, and the presence of about 20 faint, dark bands on their upper sides. They have a long head with a large mouth that ends just before the eyes, a long pointed snout, and a protruding lower jaw. Their pelvic fins provide a key identification characteristic, as they originate behind the pectoral fins and under the first dorsal fin. They have short pectoral fins with 13 rays and deeply forked gray caudal fins with dark edges.

The Pelican Barracudas are a pelagic species that are found in and around reefs at depths up to 75 feet. They reach a maximum length of 1.0 meters (3 feet 3 inches). The Pelican Barracudas are a very rare species and their behavioral patterns are unknown.

In Mexican waters the Pelican Barracuda have historically been thought to reside only in the waters off the coast of Peru. The collection photographed below was made 40 miles north of Cabo San Lucas in the Pacific, which documents a significant northerly range extension for this species.  I have also caught the fish recently in La Bocana (26° 3′ 45″ North, 112° 17′ 12″ West) in the northern portions of Baja California Sur and Chris Wheaton recently caught one in Bahia de Los Angeles (which is pictured below).

The Pelican Barracudas can be confused with the Blackfin Barracuda, Sphyraena qenie (dark anal, caudal and dorsal fins, 13 pectoral fin rays, pelvic fins inserted under the pectoral fins and before the first dorsal fin), the Cortez Barracuda, Sphyraena lucasana (pale caudal fin, 16 pectoral fin rays, pelvic fins inserted behind the pectoral fins and under the first dorsal fin), the Mexican Barracuda, Sphyraena ensis (gray caudal fin, 13 pectoral fin rays, pelvic fins inserted under the tips of the pectoral fins and before the dorsal fin), and the Pacific Barracuda, Sphyraena argentea (yellow caudal fin, 16 pectoral fin rays, pelvic fins inserted behind the pectoral fins and before the first dorsal fin).

The Pelican Barracudas are viewed by locals to be of poor food value.

Pelican Barracuda

Pelican Barracuda, Sphyraena idiastes. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater Los Cabos area, Baja California Sur, July 2007. Length: 51 cm (20 inches). Identification courtesy of H.J. Walker, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA.

Pelican Barracuda, Sphyraena idiastes. Fish caught from coastal waters within Bahia de Los Angeles, Baja California, November 2017. This catch documents a significant range extension for the species into the northern Sea of Cortez. Length: 53 cm (21 inches). Catch, photo, and identification courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Fullerton, CA. Identification reconfirmed by Kurt Schaefer, Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, La Jolla, CA.