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RickI 06-20-2007 03:15 PM

Severe Barracuda Attack
Photo: Rick Iossi

This is a fish tale or more accurately the story of an nasty encounter between Chef Paul and a Great Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda). Paul Menta is a very well known kiteboarding instructor through The Kitehouse and PASA, is an Executive Chef at The Grand Cafe in Key West and is an active spearfisherman. This last activity takes us into the following story ...
The Florida Keys and Sambo Reefs about 6 miles off Key West, FL

In February 2005 Paul Menta, his regular diving partner Jessie, Jack a diver for the Mel Fisher Salvage organization, Chris and Mia headed out spearfishing.
Paul Menta shooting some video in the Turks and Caicos

The were doing drift diving runs in about 40 to 60 feet of water off the Western Sambo Reef about six miles off Key West, Florida. Visibility was about 70 ft. in bluewater. They had been out for about four hours.
The area of Western Sambo Reef

Paul said he could feel a special energy or level of activity on the reef. "The water was alive" and "everyone was hunting that day," fish and divers alike. It was during a full moon and the mutton snappers were spawning heating things up. They had nailed a couple of groupers and mutton and were just getting into some more.

Paul eased down to the bottom, down current some of the crew on the other side of a large coral head. They other guys had just shot two mutton snapper. There were a couple of other mutton drifting Paul's way so he grabbed the bottom to wait for them to come by. One came up and Paul took him with a head shot.
A mutton snapper checks things out.

Paul then started for the surface with the mutton held close in. He had used this as a deterrent to other predators in the past with success. He was about 20 ft. off the bottom when something hit him HARD in the right shoulder from behind. The mutton jerked in his hand as well. Paul's anxiety spiked as he looked around trying to figure out what was going on. He saw a barracuda, a big one about 5 1/2 ft. long and fat turning around to face him. It was in full attack mode, jaws snapping, body arched and snaking fast as it bore in on him again. A few seconds must have elapsed since his shoulder was hit and he instinctively raised his hand to protect his face and dropped the fish and gun from his right hand. Just that fast the cuda struck Paul hard ripping into his arm and then flashed off slammed into the sinking mutton snapper to finish up.
Photo: Rick Iossi

The shock of the encounter rammed into him and Paul's heart rev'd way up. This is exactly what you don't want on a breathhold dive. He is still 20 ft. beneath the surface and the hunger for air has just exploded to overshadow all other considerations, shredded arm, barracuda attacks or whatever else might charge out of the blue. He just wanted one thing very badly, air. He made the surface, grabbed a lung full and continued to chug in the stuff through his snorkel. He then moved on to priority two and took a good look beneath him to see what might be moving in for a second bite. There was a lot of activity below, with some sharks showing up. After all a few mutton had been speared, the cuda was going off on his prize and Paul had a chunk of arm flesh ripped from him. Buffets open guys, come and get it. He then looked at his arm, not good. His arm was ripped open, with bone showing. The laceration was across the entire width of his arm, perhaps five inches along the length and was gaping with torn flesh and muscle. It wasn't bleeding that much amazingly so no arteries had been sliced, yet. Next he looked up to locate the boat. With all the current he had drifted about 300 yards perhaps more, sigh. He grabbed his speargun float line and wound it around his arm just below the elbow as a loose tourniquet. He was still pulling in huge panting breaths when he heard Jessie and Jack yell a hundred yards or so away, "SHARKS!"
Black tips cruising

More accurately, lots of sharks. Paul signaled Jessie with his uninjured arm and yelled help. They know that if either one of them signals in this way it means either they are injured or are about to succumb to Shallow Water Blackout. The guys started charge over to Paul as the sharks continue heat up on the bottom. Paul got to the boat under his own steam while focusing more on the sharks. There was a bull and four blacktips circling on the bottom and not near the surface, yet.
A bull moving in

Mia was in the boat and Paul was about out of energy while wondering about the sharks as well. Paul got into the boat with Mia's help. She asked "what should I do?" Paul said, grab my arm and hold the wound shut. Mia did just that, grabbing the torn bits in both hands and compressing the mess back into place. The guys got on the boat and asked what happened? Paul said he was attacked by a barracuda. They said, well that couldn't have been that bad. To set the story straight, Paul and Mia released their grips on the arm and blew the guys away with the gory spectacle. After washing it out with freshwater, Mia and Paul attempted to hold the mass together for a rush trip to Stock Island just north of Key West. Jack called ahead to his buds on the Fisher treasure salvage vessel to get his car ready to haul Paul to the ER pronto.
Mel Fisher even got involved, or at least divers in his organization did in laying on Jack's car at the dock on Stock Island to rush Paul to the hospital.

A very pregnant nurse, perhaps 8 months along, asked Paul what happened. He said he got hit by a barracuda and took his hands from the wound. She roundly chastised him for teasing cudas and saying he should know better. He said no teasing was involved just spearing. As it happened the nurse was also a spearfisherman. Paul started to worry about the nurse going into labor in the midst of his treatment she seemed to be so far along. So they worked on his arm, irrigating it (incredibly painful) several times while asking him to close his fist to verify continued nerve function as they were exposed to the light of day as well. They even pulled a cuda tooth fragment from his bone, wonder if Paul still has it? No painkillers had been administered to this point. He did get a shot of novacane before he received 23 stitches underneath and 14 staples on top (his hands were tired at this point so why not use staples to hold it together instead?). He though had he not had his hand in a loose claw when the cuda hit, he might have lost some fingers during the attack. A couple of years later things are pretty much back to normal though as a keepsake Paul tells me he has lost feeling in some small areas of the surface of his left hand. It doesn't seem to have slowed him down, not by a long shot.

Text Copyright 2007 FKA, Inc.

RickI 06-20-2007 03:16 PM
Photo: Rick Iossi

So just how common are barracuda attacks? Not very common at all.

"Danger to Humans
Attacks on humans by great barracuda are rare. Inquisitive, sight-oriented fish, barracudas sometimes exhibit the unnerving habit of trailing snorkelers and divers. When attacks occur more often than not it is because a barracuda attempts to steal a fish from spearfishers or mistakenly interprets a shiny object, such as a diving knife, for the glint of a shiny fish. Such incidents usually consist of one very quick strike, the result of which may be a laceration and some loss of tissue. Fatalities from barracuda attacks are rare. In 1947, a death off Key West was attributed to a barracuda, followed by another case off the coast of North Carolina in 1957. 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. However, such attacks are uncommon and more often than not easily preventable with a few simple precautions."


"Barracudas have struck twice off the Kona Coast at shiny barrettes in women's hair. The women did fine, but one needed surgery to remove embedded teeth. Still, those are two of only six recorded barracuda attacks in Hawaii in the last 42 years. Three others (counting Loumoli) were fisherman; the other was a camera-bearing scuba diver."

An probable barracuda attack off Oahu on another spearfisherman with some lasting damage appears at:

Another diver attack, (Paul check this one out):

More about Cudas at:
(including quotes from my old acquaintance Dr. Donald de Silva of RSMAS, gone but not forgotten).

Paul has a special relationship with marine predators, one of respect, understanding and frequent exposure. Between free diving, kiteboarding and standup paddle surfing, Paul spends a substantial part of the year in the ocean. As a function of this extended exposure and less clear factors he has been attacked by sharks while kiteboarding twice and now has suffered this rare but serious barracuda attack while spearfishing. I am aware of about seven kiteboarder shark attacks worldwide to put things in perspective. I asked him what he might have done differently to reduce the odds of the barracuda attack. Considering the "sneak attack" launched by the cuda short of not being there there was much else he thought he could do. These days he is more aggressive with barracuda in the area before he shoots. He gets the fish into the boat even faster than before if possible. Paul mentioned an interesting trick he uses if a cuda comes up when he is trying to get a fish into the boat. Depending on the barracuda's behavior he my drop a dive knife to spiral flashing to the bottom. This may be a pretty good distraction for cuda's although he thought it might not do much to an overly interested shark. I told him I used to do something similar with shells at the beach in the water with barracudas when I was a spud. They get rev'd up and hit the flashing object, knife or shell. He is a very well rounded waterman with decades of experience in many countries worldwide (his business was called "Kitesurf-the-Earth"). Search for "Menta" on this site and you will come up with many great stories.

Anyway, have a care Paul, I know you will and have fun out there.
Paul starting a world record attempt with four other riders to cross from Key West To Cuba via Kite in 2001. That was an incredible story all by itself. Read all about it at:
Photo: Red Bull

RickI 06-20-2007 05:34 PM

Paul related a more recent spearfishing encounter with predators, this time sharks. I had no idea tiburons were this thick in Key West. Then again, I quit spearfishing decades ago, takes me off the menu somewhat. Anyway over to Paul ...

Late in April 2007, Paul and Jessie were free diving a few miles off Key West to the west of the Sambos in about 50 ft. of water. They had just splashed in, groupers were roaming around with just one Blacktip on the prowl. Jessie dove to nail one, got a good sized 35 pounder but it was still fighting pretty hard. Hard enough to saturate the surrounding water with an unavoidable dinner bell or was it a fight starting bell to sharks in the area. Soon enough, there were five blacktips circling closely followed by a good sized bull shark.
A blacktip underway. Love this shot, that's an antique hand crank 16 mm Bolex "Wrecking Ball" camera housing. Very reliable system although a bit primative these days. (From:

Jessie was dragging the fish over to the boat and started to try to climb in. Paul was watching the sharks and riding herd on Jessie's retreat as best he could. He had taking the slip tip off of his spear shaft for a defensive gill shot for an overly interested shark. He tells me this works but really sets the rest of the sharks into a tizzy or is that a frenzy? Paul indicated that some fish kills attract sharks more than others. More oily fish like jack and mackerel can really bring them in hot and fast. Strangely enough he tells me a shot barracuda can send bull sharks off to distraction and is a major disincentive to shooting them in particularly in bluewater. Strange dietary preferences of sharks!
A bull shark. Ever hear of the "heatbreak of remoras?" The hell with the bull, those damn remoras give me the willeys when they crawl all over you. (From:

Paul then sees the Bull hit the lightspeed switch and come barreling through, striking Jessie's grouper. No worries, they still had the fish, uh well half of it anyway. Whoops! Paul was interested in getting the hell out of Dodge himself, trouble was the sharks were between him and the boat. A few more tense moments and a hole opened up, Paul slipped through and onboard. They decided to try another spot, wonder why? They saw another shark there as well. Didn't know KW as this "sharky." Live and learn, if you are lucky.
Breaking bread, uh fish with sharks. Here's your half guys!

RickI 08-27-2007 11:12 PM

We recently headed down to Key West via high speed ferry out of Miami via The Key West Express. It is a great way to go, fast, easy, scenic and at $99, R/T, less with coupons a bargain. It is a natural with water people.
Leave Miami at 8:30 am and you pull into Key West harbor by 12:30 pm. Rent a bike and tool around the island, head out to the Flats with the Kitehouse.

My wife took me down for my birthday. We hooked up with Paul Menta who decided to go hunt up some fish for the birthday dinner along with Pedro.
Recall the last encounter with a barracuda
Paul shows off his cudda bite scars. It has healed incredibly well in just two years.
So Paul, Pedro, Laura and myself head out to see what we can find on the reef to the west and south west of the island.
Paul sporting his pole gun. We had to watch the time and so stayed fairly close to shore in slighly turbid water.
We saw a turtle hanging out under a head.
Laura glides along pushing a pressure wave.
A moray hangs out. It was a full moon and larger fish were not to be found. Despite that Paul nailed both a hogfish and snapper for dinner. Not only did he catch dinner, he COOKED it. Paul is also the executive chef at The Grand Cafe down on Duval.
The Grand Cafe
He started with appetisers, tuna tartare for me and a great scallop dish for Laura. It was FRESH and excellent! Sorry about the poor image quality, I only had a camera phone with me unfortunately.
Paul followed with a marvelous "Surf and Turf" including hogfish, snapper with a great sauce and a fine fillet cooked just so. It was a great meal and couldn't have been any fresher.

We didn't have any cuda encounters this trip. In reality baracuda attacks seem to be quite rare anyway.
The mosquitos can be fairly large in the Keys in heavy rains. Just remember to bring a swatter for the cudas, they can fly too.
Here's the ferry underway west of the island. I tried to catch it once a few weeks ago about a 1/2 mile off Smathers. Just couldn't move quite fast enough, next time.
Heading north out of Key West harbor

Photos: Rick Iossi

RickI 04-23-2008 07:36 AM

Any other unusual barracuda encounters out there? Haven't spoken to Paul recently. I sure hope he hasn't added any more marine predator go to's to his record. Two kiting related shark attacks, out of seven worldwide that I have heard about and an extremely rare cuda diver attack. Definitely time to change colognes.

RickI 05-07-2008 11:25 AM

The story above details about how a barracuda got the fish and spearfisherman for that matter. The following clip shows sharks getting some of their own in an encounter with a spearfisherman. Their environment, their rules.

RickI 05-07-2008 04:06 PM

Don't want to launch a "Shark Week" on here, it is bad enough when they do it on TV. Tacky, crass and largely irrelevant miss information in some cases. Still, just came across some amazing white shark footage shot by a free diver off South Africa. If you wanted to see closeup details of white sharks hanging out, here's your big chance ...

jack.jowers 06-28-2008 11:51 PM

Barracuda Attack
I think some has been telling fish tales with the barracuda attack story. I dont know who this Paul Menta is but this story has obviously been taken from an event that happened to me and some of my co-workers.

I would have to be the Jack in the story. I am the only Jack that worked for the Fisher group during that time, I lived and kept my car on Stock Island, we dock our boats on Stock Island. We did have a crew member become a victim of a barracuda attack while spearfishing at our work sites, during the same time this attack would have taken place. I did call over the radio to our survey boat who was out at our work site to evac the crewmen so he could get proper stitches, so maybe thats where this person stole the story. Interestingly enough, we had a Paul, Jessie, and a Chris working around that time but not together at once.

So if someone is going to use me by name then they better get their facts straight.

It was the guys fault for getting bit in the first place. From what the other crew in the water tell me he was antagonizing the cuda, poking it with the spear pole. If memory serves he got fired very shortly after that.

Not a big deal I just dont know why someone would usurp that story in this way. :confused:

RickI 06-29-2008 08:25 AM

Hello Jack,

That is some strange coincidence. Don't know what to tell you. I've known Paul for about ten years, never saw him as a bs artist, pretty much the opposite in fact. He is a pretty low key guy despite incidents like this. There have been a number of intriguing adventures over the years with lots of witnesses and scars to go with in a few cases.

I don't know you either. I do know quite a lot about Mel Fisher back in the day. Pretty amazing stories and would make a good movie. Not about the Atocha either, more the behind the scenes stuff. He was a unique individual in treasure salvage.

The Kite House 08-13-2008 10:40 AM

"I think some has been telling fish tales with the barracuda attack story. I dont know who this Paul Menta is but this story has obviously been taken from an event that happened to me and some of my co-workers.

I would have to be the Jack in the story. I am the only Jack that worked for the Fisher group during that time, I lived and kept my car on Stock Island, we dock our boats on Stock Island. "

I am Paul Menta and jack, big blonde haired guy, looked like tarzan , like on his houseboat next to the mel boat there on stock island. He then girlfriend Mia, who i saw yesterday was living there with him. I have lived in key west for 16 years and so has my best friend jesse who boat we were on, i have the scars to prove it. Any way jack moved to cali and became a ablone diver as well as a p/t if you know him, i do not like listing peoples last names. We spent alot of time spear fishing while he was here in key west, he was a nut.

Anyway, i am still in key west and still spearing all the time, so if you are curious of who i am and live here, i am easy to find at the grand cafe on duval or kiteboarding at smathers....hope that clears some stuff up for ya.

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