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Meet 6 Monster Fish That (Believe It or Not) Live in Rivers
Sometimes referred to as “spoonbill,” “spoonies,” or “spoonbill
catfish,” the spoonbill—a.k.a. Mississippi paddlefish (Polyodon
spathula)—isn’t really a catfish at all, but rather a close relative
of the sturgeon. It is a primitive fish; one of only two paddlefish
species in the world. It can also grow to over six feet in length and
weigh over 200 pounds.
The Mississippi paddlefish produces high-quality caviar that can sell
for several hundred dollars a pound. This demand for caviar has led to
poaching in some areas, where unscrupulous fishermen target spawning
fish at night to harvest their eggs.
Mekong Giant Catfish
One of the largest fish in the world, the Mekong giant catfish
(Pangasianodon gigas) grows to 10 feet and 650 pounds and is listed as
critically endangered by the IUCN. Current threats include
overfishing, dam building (which can block migration routes and alter
hydrological regimes), and habitat destruction (mainly the Upper
Mekong Navigation Improvement Project).
The Mekong giant catfish is the most well-known, yet also most
endangered, fish in Southeast Asia. In Thailand, cave paintings
thought to be of the fish date back thousands of years and ceremonies
have accompanied the capture of the fish for at least a hundred years.
Fishermen caught a 646-pound giant catfish in Northern Thailand in
2005; this catch is the current record holder for world’s largest
The white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) is one of the largest
freshwater fish species in North America, growing to over 15 feet in
length and weighing over 1,000 pounds. Strongholds for the population
include the Fraser River in Canada and the Sacramento River in
The largest threats to white sturgeon in North America are dams and
associated flow regulation. Fragmentation of populations due to dams
has led to decline in numbers in the Columbia basin. Some populations
that once migrated from the sea to rivers for breeding are now
landlocked due to dam construction.
Giant Freshwater Stingray
The giant freshwater stingray (Himantura polylepis) is one of the
largest freshwater fish in the world, growing up to 16.5 feet long and
weighing up to 1,320 pounds. They are brown to gray in color, wide and
flat in form, and they sport a long, whip-like tail.
Giant stingrays occur in river systems in Thailand, Borneo, New
Guinea, and northern Australia. They often bury themselves in sandy or
silted river bottoms and breathe through holes or spiracles, located
on top of their bodies. Stingrays locate prey, usually clams and
crabs, with a sensor that can detect an animal's electrical field.
In Southeast Asia, giant stingray numbers appear to have dropped
dramatically in recent years as their riverine habitats have degraded,
and it appears they no longer inhabit some parts of their historical
range. Though stingrays do not readily attack humans, they are one of
the few “monster fish” that can pose a real danger to those who handle
them. Each ray sports a deadly barb on the base of its tail that can
easily penetrate human skin and even bone, much like a hunting arrow.
This stinger can be as long as 15 inches and typically introduces
toxins to the victim’s wound.
The wallago catfish (Wallago leeri) lives in freshwaters from Pakistan
to Vietnam. It is a large, predatory catfish, which can grow up to
seven feet. In India, the species is threatened by overharvest,
habitat degradation, and pollution. Due to these threats and declining
abundance, the species is considered endangered in India.
The largest fish reported by Cambodian fishermen was a 200-pound
specimen in 1990. Fishermen also reported 150-pound individuals as
recently as 2006. IUCN lists the wallago catfish as Near Threatened.
The goonch (Bagarius yarrelli), a large, predatory catfish, occurs
throughout much of Asia, especially in the rapids of Himalayan rivers,
the main Mekong River, and the largest tributaries. Although
widespread, this species may be threatened by increased development
and pollution in Asian rivers.
The goonch is also the subject of stories about man-eating catfish in
India. According to reports, which have not been verified, the goonch
developed a taste for humans after feeding on the remains of corpses
burned on riverbank funeral pyres in northern India. In reality, the
large fish are now so rare and heavily fished that it's very unlikely
they can grow large enough to attack human-sized prey.
Photos at website
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