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What Is a Tarpon?

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  • Written By: April S. Kenyon
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2014
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Tarpon is a fish, and a member of the Elopidae family. Magalop is the scientific name for this fish. These prehistoric fish are also known as tarpum, cuffum, silverfish, sabalo real, and silver king. There are two varieties of megalop: Megalops atlanticus and Megalops atlanticutarpus. Fossil research provides evidence that the tarpon has been swimming in the oceans of the world for centuries.

While very small at birth, a full grown tarpon can be anywhere from 5 to 8 feet (approximately 1.52 to 2.44 meters) in length, and weigh as much as 280 lbs. (approximately 127 kilograms). Tarpons are characterized by silver scales that cover the entire fish except for the head, distinct lateral lines along the body, and a bluish green color on the back. These enormous fish have a broad mouth and a protruding jaw. The large eyes are covered by a thick transparent skin referred to as adipose eyelids. The life expectancy of tarpons is approximately 55 to 60 years.

Megalops atlanticus can be found swimming along the western and eastern coasts of the Atlantic, in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean. The other species, Megalops cyprinoides, are found along the coasts of eastern Africa and southeast Asia. This species may also be found in areas of Australia, Japan, and Tahiti. Both types can be discovered in either fresh or saltwater habitats. These hardy fish can survive a variety of conditions, including varying levels of pH, and waters with low oxygen content.

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The unique air bladder of the tarpon allows it to gulp air at the surface and absorb the oxygen in order to survive in waters with low oxygen content. Tarpon are the only fish with this type of swim bladder. This unique feature is believed to be the primary way it breathes. If the fish cannot access the water’s surface to take in oxygen, it will die.

Tarpons are a bony fish that are not generally desirable as a meat source. They are, however, deemed by many to be a great game fish. Fishermen often consider the enormous size, strength, and general reputation of the fish to be a great prize. Many game fishermen fish for tarpon on a catch and release basis, meaning that the fish is generally returned to the waters after it has been caught. Some individuals, however, may select to have a tarpon stuffed and mounted to display as a trophy.

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