Key West Tarpon

About Tarpon

The tarpon is a fish that’s commonly found in the Florida Keys. It’s most often found in the shallow waters of lagoons and bays and has even been known to travel some distance up rivers. It’s a big fish, dark blue to black on top, with silver sides and bottom. The dorsal fin ends in an unusual long spur. It has noticeably large eyes and its Greek name, Megalops, means andldquo;large-eyed.andrdquo; It has an underbite and a mouth, jaw and tongue full of small teeth. It also has a bony plate in its lower jaw that helps it crush its prey.

Female tarpon are generally larger and longer-lived than males and can grow as long as six and half feet and weigh as much as 350 pounds. Tarpon become sexually mature between six and 13 years of age or whenever it reaches a certain size. For male tarpon, this happens when he’s between three and four feet long. For females, it’s when she grows to a little over four feet long. Tarpon spawn between May and August in schools found offshore. A big female can broadcast over 12 million eggs. The fertilized eggs are carried closer to the shore by the currents to hatch.

One interesting fact about the tarpon is that it can live in water that's poor in oxygen because of a specialized swim bladder. It will rise to the surface to gulp air. The swim bladder also lets the fish make a distinctive thumping sound.

The tarpon is an exceptionally long lived fish and has been known to live over 50 years in nature. The oldest captive tarpon lived to be 63 years old.

A larval tarpon eats zooplankton and insects. Adults eat crustaceans and smaller fish. They're prized as a game fish because they put up a good, hard fight. Tarpon flesh is said to be tasty despite the bones. One caveat is that tarpon flesh can also be the source of ciguatera poisoning.