The Amazon River basin is popular for the human ripping piranhas as badly portrayed in Hollywood Movies. The high diversity of fish in the area is amazing with some experts estimating the area to hold around 5000 species of fish. The fact that natives swim in the river made me fidget and a motherly voice whispered in my ear telling me to stay safe as our boat pulled away in the Rio Negro tributary. The trip to the Amazon River Basin in Brazil was specifically to see the Piranhas. Besides, I wanted to fish and identify the various fish species in the locality.
As I dreaded courage to step into the waters, I hoped that my fate would not end up like portrayed in many Hollywood movies. We journeyed with kayaks upriver on the Rio Negro tributary. The river currents were calm. As we made jokes with the tour captain and two other guys with me on the boat, the fish started flying. The captain was quick to note this and he shouted, “Piranha”. The driver was explaining something about the Brazilian piranha. Their teeth are serrated and they interlock to dice and slice the flesh from the bone. Their powerful jaws make them more lethal. However, most of the piranha species are herbivores save for the black and the red piranhas that we were battling.
As the natives explained later, there are rare cases of human attacks by piranhas and that they mostly feed on animals. Like sharks, they can detect the smell of blood miles away. If you have a wound, better go watch a movie than join a fishing expedition in the Amazon basin in Brazil. As I dipped my pole and hooked line into the water, my pulse rate upped. We used fresh meat as bait. As I tossed the fish into the boat for a closer look, I could see the ugly face of the fish with the red belly. That face that is only lovable by a mother. The fish was fierce and looked like a paid killer. The captain tossed a piece of flesh to it and in nanosecond, the piranha’s jaws snapped shearing through the flesh with the razor like teeth.
Why are piranhas dangerous?
Piranhas are dangerous because they have razor-sharp teeth that enable them to break through anything, including bones and shells. This means piranhas can survive by eating or injuring almost any other animal in the river. Nothing is safe from a hungry piranha!
Do piranhas attack humans?
Yes, they do. And they can take down a human in seconds.
Piranhas are meat-eaters and will eat anything that comes into their territory – including humans. Piranha attacks on people are rare but not unheard of. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, a man lost his leg to piranhas on 19 June 1982.
The previous record for the most number of fatalities from a single piranha attack was four, but in August 2007 that figure was broken when five people died after swimming in the waters of Rio de Janeiro. In 2011 another person was killed by giant sea-piranhas.
Yet these stories are not enough to keep people away from the water. People love the idea of swimming with piranhas. Maybe it is something about watching a fish hunt for its prey or maybe it is something more primal, like being hunted and eaten by a ferocious creature. Whatever it is, many tourists visit Amazonia each year to swim with piranhas.
Piranha attacks on humans are rare, but they do happen and everyone should be aware of the danger when swimming in rivers where there is a large population of these fish.
How do piranhas attack?
Piranhas usually hunt for food at night when their prey is asleep and easy to catch. Piranhas have very sharp teeth that enable them to bite through almost anything, including bones and shells. Some piranha species are even known to attack man-made objects like tin cans. Because of their strong jaws they can inflict a lot of damage in a short amount of time
A typical piranha feeding frenzy occurs when the fish sense blood in the water. A wounded fish or mammal will go into a frenzy and fear override their natural instinct to flee, often leading them to swim right towards the pack of waiting piranhas. At this point they are easy prey for the ravenous predators who are ready to take on anything that moves.
In other cases, like the attack in 2007, a large number of piranhas were forced into the lake due to sewage being dumped upstream. The odor from the waste attracted an enormous number of fish, including the deadly sharp-toothed predators.
They then attacked anything that came into their territory, even groups of swimmers who had no idea what was happening at first. It wasn’t until someone was injured that people realized they were swimming among piranhas.
What is a piranha’s feeding pattern?
Piranhas are aggressive hunters that will eat anything, but most of their diet consists of fish and insects. They have very sharp teeth, so the only way the can break through things like bones and shells is by hunting in packs. Piranhas can also wade into the shallows and catch fish out of shallow waters.
Piranhas tend to live near rivers year-round, but they move upriver during the rainy season where they have a larger area to hunt for food. As the water begins to dry up, piranhas will migrate downstream where there is still plenty of water for them to survive on.
When piranha attacks occur…
If you are swimming in an area with large numbers of piranhas, it is important that you swim only at safe times (daylight hours), avoid murky waste areas, never attack any animals in the water and never fish at night. Do not splash around either as this will cause schools of piranhas to attack.
If you are attacked, the best course of action is to remain very still and try not to attract attention. The water around you will begin to churn as the piranhas come in for the kill, so time your movements carefully. It may be worth it to try running away at this point if you can reach the shore or another safe area.
How do you defend yourself against piranha attacks?
As far as self-defense goes, there is no real way to stop a fully grown adult piranha from attacking, but there are things that can help deter them or at least give you some warning when they start swimming towards you.
Piranhas have an excellent sense of smell so smelly things like perfume or cologne can be effective at repelling them. In one instance, a man was attacked by piranhas when he fell in the water and managed to swim back to shore where his wife was waiting for him on the side of the riverbank. She threw her shirt over the water so that it floated near him, which gave off a scent strong enough to make the predators swim away.
This is only an option if you have something like this lying around, however. Another thing you can do if you are attacked by piranha is splash some blood into the water around you as this may scare them off. Obviously, if you are bleeding then there is not much else that can be done except try your best to get out of the water.
How do we prevent attacks like this from happening?
Because of the nature of piranhas and how quickly they can move, it is not easy to stop something like this from becoming a deadly situation. The easiest way to prevent a piranha attack is by dumping large amounts of blood into the water before swimmers come in or avoiding murky areas altogether.
Another thing you can do is drain as much of the oxygen out of any given river so that there are fewer fish for the piranhas to feed on while still giving them a safe area for breeding without fear of being eaten themselves. In an ideal world, we could just get rid of all man-made waste products when they reach our waterways but this isn’t going to happen for a very long time, if ever. Not only for the wide variety of fish species but also for the cool Amazon Basin climate. Meet the piracucu, the tambaqui, the electric eel and other famous fish species.
Later that night I went for a Brazilian dance. A great way to forget the piranha.
Always go for piranha fishing with a local expert in the zone. Always read the regulations first and then proceed to go kayaking in this particular basin. Many dangers exist that you might not know. Always consult local authorities before engaging in these kind of adventures. Better safe than sorry.