There have long been rumors of a large barracuda living in the Hawaii State Capitol “moat.” I didn’t pay much attention until I saw the damn thing for myself.

I was excited enough to post a blurry picture of it on Facebook, and described it as going on three feet in length. I was immediately challenged on my skill as a photographer and an ichthyologist — and my ability to properly estimate dimensions.

So, I returned and stalked the elusive creature until I could get a clear and definitive shot of the kaku along with his constant sidekick (a large papio).

He was indeed a big one. Not a giant like the ones the kids pull out of Kaelepulu Pond (Enchanted Lake), but certainly not a baby like you can see darting around the reef off Kahala. I stand by my 36-inch estimate.

So, who really knows about how the barracuda got into the moat?

I sensed there was a story here and exactly where to hunt it down: The longtime staffers at the Capitol know everything. I just had to casually press for more information on the mystery fish.

Moat thing: Barry the Capitol barracuda and his unnamed papio companion. Keith Rollman

I started with the crew that perpetually cleans the moat.

They stomp around in rubber boots and vacuum and scrub at the algae and assorted slime that is perhaps the moat’s most recognizable feature. By the time they clean one end of the pool, the other end has regrown a fresh batch of its primordial ooze. They repeat the cycle endlessly, to no avail.

When asked about the barracuda staffers hedged a bit, but confessed that he has a substantial history. His name is Barry, and he’s been there over three years. He used to be on the Ewa side pool (the two sides are not connected), but was “moved” for his own safety when the House of Representatives side was “Cloroxed” to kill off a diseased fish population.

From Pool To Pool

I asked how he got from one side to the other, assuming he did not walk. They cryptically stated that he was “fished out” by one of the Capitol’s long serving administrators (no name was provided). They added that Barry is “being fed by somebody.”

Next I cornered one of the sergeant-at-arms when he stopped by my office.

“What do you know about the barracuda?” I asked.

He knew a lot.

The Capitol has two pools, and they hold life. Flickr

He confirmed that Barry had been dumped into the moat as a baby over three and half years earlier. He then gave me my best lead so far, the name of the person who actually moved Barry to the Senate side.

About 15 minutes into the lunch hour, I was sitting before Barry’s protector and getting a solid 30 minutes of barracuda backstory. Yes, Mr. X had indeed saved Barry from the Ewa side fish kill by casting a small spoon lure, which the naïve fish immediately went after.

He didn’t get hooked, but when Barry tired out from jumping at it, he was netted and whisked to his new home on the Senate side. Mr. X confirmed Barry’s size and suggested that he is no longer “moveable.”

If only Barry could “pull a Nemo” and find the pond’s main drain.

He lamented Barry’s probable fate as being doomed to “die in that slimy pond.”

Earlier attempts to liberate Barry to the open ocean failed after being scuttled by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which said he could be returned to the ocean only after submitting to pathology testing and being declared disease-free — a process that apparently kills the fish. Even Mr. X, a longtime state employee, concluded that this was just plain “stupid.”

Mr. X suggests that there is a direct route to a storm drain that leads to the ocean, if only Barry could “pull a Nemo” and find the pond’s main drain. Unfortunately, Barry may already be too big for such exploits.

The Kindness Of Humans

I am constantly amazed by how knowledgeable certain locals are about fishing in Hawaii. I’ve been here for 50 years and they will always know more than me.

The recently retired janitor on the third floor of the Capitol, Cal, would engage in lengthily discussions about fishing. I discovered that he designed and fabricated special lures in his garage and sold them at the swap meet.

A possible link to the origin of Barry? Who knows.

Barry’s current benefactor, Mr. X, buys frozen smelt at Safeway, carefully thaws them and feeds Barry every Thursday. Another Barry supporter, described as a “PETA type” by my source, feeds him on Sunday.

The little mosquito fish that infest the Diamond Head side are too small for Barry. His papio friend is fine with them and is also growing at a ferocious rate, but Barry is already too big to dine on the little guppies.

All the larger tilapia have been eaten, so he relies on the kindness of his human benefactors. Mr. X suggested that, if I was so inclined, I could feed Barry on Monday (six to eight smelt).

It is a testament to the inherent kindness of Hawaii’s people that they continue, even after three years, to support and care for the stranded capitol barracuda.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author