It is almost impossible to travel Southeast Asia without seeing or cruising the Mekong River. You probably already know that the Mekong River Catfish is one of the largest freshwater fish on the planet. But do you know these other fun and interesting facts about this giant of the Mekong River?
Top 10 Facts about the Mekong River Giant Catfish
The Mekong River Catfish actually belongs to the shark catfish family, being very shark-like in appearance, with a large head with low, wide-set eyes and a toothless, gaping mouth. It is gray on top with a pale belly, and completely scale-free.
This underwater giant is endemic to Southeast Asia’s Mekong basin.
It was once found along the entire course of the Mekong River, stretching from Vietnam to China, this giant fish now only inhabits the waters of the Lower Mekong – a fragment of its prior home.
Catfish are famed for their whiskers, but the adult Mekong River Catfish are whiskerless.
This gentle giant is not only the largest catfish in the world but fast-growing too: it can reach 330 to 440 pounds (150 to 200 kg) in just six years. In 2005, a record-breaking specimen was caught in the Mekong River in Thailand. The giant fish was nearly nine feet long (close to three meters) and weighed in at a whopping 646 pounds (almost 300 kg).
The Mekong River Catfish migrate long distances each year in search of specific environments in which to spawn and reproduce. During the start of the rainy season, the fish gather together and then head upstream to spawn. They typically mate at around six years of age.
Although young fish consume zooplankton, their diet changes to algae and plants once the fish reach one year old.
An interesting fact about the catfish is that the locals who live on the banks of Mekong consider it sacred, and locals celebrate catching the fish with a big ceremony and feast. Indeed, in Thai tradition, rituals are carried out before fishing this aquatic creature. Some even believe that devouring the fish brings good luck, intelligence, and longevity.
Local street market
Historically hunted and culturally celebrated, the Mekong Giant Catfish is now critically endangered due to overfishing, pollution, and construction in the river, with dams blocking migration routes to their breeding spots. Indeed there has been a dramatic drop in the Mekong River Catfish population of over 80% since 1990, and sadly there are now estimated to be just a few hundred left living in the wild.
In efforts to save the Mekong River Catfish, various initiatives have been put in place. Fish are now bred in captivity and later released into the wild, and there has been an increase in patrolling of areas to deter hunting to ensure the wild catfish reach breeding age.
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