A tourist was attacked off a Cayman Islands beach, and authorities believe it may have been a rare barracuda ambush.
The victim — identified only as “an elderly woman” — was hospitalized for a bite on her right arm, the Cayman Islands Department of Environment said in a news release.
Details of her condition were not released.
It happened Monday, Jan. 24, as she swam that morning off 7 Mile Beach near the Colonial Club Condos, officials said. The beach is on the west side of Grand Cayman and “attracts travelers from all over the world,” according to Cayman Islands tourism officials.
“The responding DoE conservation officer noticed several schools of sprats and some feeding activity in the water at the location,” officials said. “Small baitfish jumping out of the water when swimming as this is usually an indication of feeding activity nearby.”
Barracuda attacks on humans are rare, but can be fatal, experts say.
In 2019, a similar attack on a U.S. tourist in the Cayman Islands resulted in “serious injuries” that included “significant nerve and muscle damage,” according to the Cayman News Service.
Great barracuda are the species common to the Cayman Islands. They can reach 6.5 feet and are “carnivorous predator and somewhat territorial,” Visitcaymanislands.com reports.
Their striking appearance includes “a pointed head with a large mouth and long knife-like teeth,” Animal Diversity Web says.
Barracuda are ambush hunters “that can burst in speeds up to 35 mph,” according to the Florida Museum of Natural History.
“In 1947, a death off Key West was attributed to a barracuda, followed by another case off the coast of North Carolina in 1957,” the museum reports.
“A well-documented barracuda attack occurred on a free diver off Pompano Beach, Florida in 1960. The diver was bitten twice, and the resulting injuries required 31 stitches.”
The Cayman Islands are about 365 miles south of Key West.