Saturday, March 14, 2009

Big Fish, Little Fish

Melbourne, Florida. Just about a year ago this week, biologist Zeb Hogan was exploring the Mekong River in northern Cambodia when he got word of a giant stingray caught by anglers in the Bang Pakong River in Thailand. Although skeptical, Hogan went to meet the anglers and was rewarded with a 14-foot-long (4.3-meter-long) whiptail ray Himantura chaophraya. And the monster was pregnant! Now I've seen a lot of large ocean rays in my days, but I had no idea that a ray could get quite this big! And this is a freshwater species no less! The whiptail ray, first described by science only as recently as 1989, is rumored to reach a mammoth size of 1000 lbs (450 Kilograms) in rivers of Southeast Asia and northern Australia. This fact, if verified, would make this the largest freshwater fish on the planet. Check out the following video clip of this "megafish":

Hogan's stingray discovery is part of The Megafishes Project, the first worldwide attempt to document and protect the planet’s freshwater giant fishes. To qualify as a "megafish," a species must grow to at least 6.5 feet (2 meters) in length or 220 pounds (100 kilograms) in weight. Big fish, much like their terrestrial counterparts, are facing extreme threats. Also similar to their terrestrial counterparts, their presence is indicative of a healthy, thriving ecosystem. The places where these fishes exist are the last of what might be considered freshwater wilderness on our planet. However, everything from over-fishing, dams, pollution and habitat destruction are contributing to the demise of these giants. Many of the large fish are now on the path toward extinction, a warning sign of severe problems confronting river ecosystems.

If the whiptail ray is a fish larger than would be expected, another recent National Geographic story highlights the discovery of a small fish that is usually thought of as big.
A newborn whale shark Rhincodon typus was found last week in San Antonio, Philippines. After learning it was for sale, a project leader from the international conservation organization WWF went to investigate. What he found, leashed to a stake in the mud, was a 15 inch shark - the smallest ever reported. The shark was later released and researchers are optimistic that clues towards identifying the birthing grounds will help better protect this species.

For more on big fishes, tune into the National Geographic Channel this Sunday, March 15th for Monster Fish of the Amazon at 8pm followed by Monster Fish of the Mekong at 9pm. These are the latest media installments of The Megafishes Project, previews of which can be viewed below.

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