Giant Freshwater Stingray

posted: 05/15/12
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Giant Freshwater Stingray
AP Photo/Courtesy of Zeb Hogan, University of Nevada-Reno |

The giant stingray can grow to be as long as 16.5 feet and weigh as much as 1,200 pounds -- potentially the largest freshwater fish on the planet. If that's not enough to get your attention, it's also arguably the most bizarre-looking one, with its outlandishly wide, pancake-flat body and whiplike tail. It's believed to spend its days lurking in dark, muddy river bottoms in Thailand, Cambodia, Borneo, New Guinea and Western Australia. But the giant freshwater stingray is as mysterious as it is exotic. It wasn't discovered by humans until around 1990, even though the Himantura chaophraya is likely an ancient species, millions of years old. Southeast Asian fishermen have caught a few big stingrays over the years, mostly by accident. But there are tales of even more enormous freshwater stingrays that dwell in the remote Cambodian backcountry.

An Ethereal Underwater Predator

Because it was only recently discovered, there's relatively little information available about the giant freshwater stingray, compared to more familiar species of fish. Its lifespan, for example, remains unknown. And although they've only been discovered in rivers, it's unclear whether the fish ever venture into the ocean.

Giant freshwater stingrays are seldom seen because they lead a stealthy existence. They often bury themselves in sandy or silted river bottoms, where they breathe through holes, or spiracles, located on the tops of their bodies. Thus concealed, they await prey -- usually clams and crabs -- and can detect an animal's presence by its electrical field. Though they recently have become a prized catch for sport fishermen, destruction of river habitat is probably a bigger threat to the giant stingray's existence.

A Dangerous Prey for Fishermen

Lately, Thai adventure tourism impresarios have been promoting giant freshwater stingrays as a fun challenge for sport fishermen because of their impressive size and reputation for fighting hard when hooked. One Web site likens trying to land a giant freshwater stingray with battling a submarine. The companies are not always as forthcoming about the potential risks of tangling with one of the bigger specimens, who've been known to pull boats upstream and even underwater. Though a giant freshwater stingray won’t target and attack a human, when confronted, it's capable of inflicting a gruesome injury. The 15-inch barb on the base of its tail can penetrate flesh and bone as easily as an arrow.

If you're going after one of these behemoths, be sure to use heavy tackle, since they can snap a lighter line. Also, be prepared to come home with a good story about how the big one got away. Once a stingray manages to get back down to the river bottom, it's almost impossible to move. Most fishermen cut bait after several exhausting and fruitless hours of struggle.

Why You Should Throw It Back

In Asia, giant freshwater stingray are seriously threatened by overfishing and habitat destruction. Plus, if you do catch one and take the obligatory photo on the dock, it'll look like you're unfurling a brown carpet.

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