At the place of capture, many villagers were gathered around the rock. Held in a few inches of water, it was temporarily placed on a tarp outside the creek so that it could be measured and weighed. Using several 100 kg weights, researchers confirmed that she weighed 180 kg and was 3.93 meters tall.
Despite its impressive size, this stingray is not the largest specimen caught by anglers. Some have told Zeb Hogan and other scientists that they have captured individuals twice as large. This information is difficult to verify, but there is reason to believe that the giant freshwater stingray is the largest freshwater fish in the world. Other giants, such as the giant carp or the giant Mekong catfish, can exceed the 270 kg mark and measure up to 3 meters.
Giant freshwater rays usually have a poisonous jagged sting that can reach 40 cm, but this person was missing when it was caught. According to Zeb Hogan, it is not uncommon for rays to lose their sting for various reasons.
The villagers had never seen such a big fish. As they were about to release the animal into the river, Long Tha, the leader of a local community, leaned over to explain to a boy who had come to observe the animal: “It is a giant ray. When you grow up, you have to protect her ”.
Chea Seila, Wonders of the Mekong presenter, has a long history of working with local fishermen. According to her, the awareness-raising effort has made it possible to change the mentality among them about the conservation of giant fish.
“At first, they feared they would be arrested or jailed if they reported catching any species of freshwater megafauna,” she says. But we are grateful to them for doing so, and they are role models for us in the conservation of endangered fish.
This is not the last time we put a giant and endangered species out in its habitats, ”she says.
Research on this stretch of the Mekong has gained a new pressing force in recent years as the river faces increasing pressure from various sources. While filming the habitat in the deep waters of the Mekong, scientists were hit by plastic pollution, even in protected areas. They also observed “ghost nets”, those fishing nets that were abandoned by fishermen and that can catch fish.
The entire river is particularly threatened by climate change. In recent years, droughts, caused by the natural El Niño weather phenomenon, have in themselves been exacerbated by global warming, resulting in historically low seasonal water levels in the Mekong. The situation is exacerbated by operators of hydroelectric dams located upstream, which regulate the flow of water according to their own needs.
Fishing is not allowed in the many reserves established by communities along the river. However, the intense pressure exerted by this activity is still a major problem in the region, where small fishing camps continuously follow each other along the banks. Observers say illegal fishing methods, such as electric fishing, are also common.
As if that wasn’t enough, an article in the newspaper Phnom Penh Post reveals that the Cambodian government has given its principled acceptance to the construction of a huge 1,400 megawatts hydroelectric dam on the Mekong, not far from Stung Treng, where the trenches are located and in the heart of an area wetland of international importance. It was previously assumed that the Cambodian government would not allow any dam construction on the Mekong’s main line until at least 2030.
During their visit to the area, the researchers noticed technical equipment stored around the proposed construction site, proving that an initial geological survey is underway. Zeb Hogan, who has seen the devastating effects of the nearby Don Sahong Dam on fisheries, believes the dam project in Cambodia will inflict significant damage to the fragile ecosystem of the river.
“It will cause the disappearance of fisheries, biodiversity and people’s livelihoods. The region will be transformed forever, ”he warns.