Photograph courtesy Zeb Hogan
- Average life span in the wild:
- More than 60 years
- Up to 10 ft (3 m)
- Up to 650 lbs (295 kg)
- Group name:
- Did you know?
- The largest freshwater fish ever recorded was a Mekong giant catfish caught in northern Thailand in 2005. It was nearly 9 ft long (2.7 m) and weighed 646 lbs (293 kg).
- Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man
Please add a "relative" entry to your dictionary.
The world’s largest scaleless freshwater fish lives a tenuous existence in the murky brown waters of Southeast Asia’s Mekong River. Capable of reaching an almost mythical 10 feet (3 meters) in length and 650 pounds (295 kilograms), Mekong giant catfish live mainly in the lower half of the Mekong River system, in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Once plentiful throughout the Mekong basin, population numbers have dropped by some 95 percent over the past century, and this critically endangered behemoth now teeters on the brink of extinction. Overfishing is the primary culprit in the giant catfish’s decline, but damming of Mekong tributaries, destruction of spawning and breeding grounds, and siltation have taken a huge toll. Some experts think there may only be a few hundred adults left.
Mekong giant catfish have very low-set eyes and are silvery to dark gray on top and whitish to yellow on the bottom. They are toothless herbivores who live off the plants and algae in the river. Juveniles wear the characteristic catfish “whiskers,” called barbels, but these features shrink as they age.
Highly migratory creatures, giant catfish require large stretches of river for their seasonal journeys and specific environmental conditions in their spawning and breeding areas. They are thought to rear primarily in Cambodia’s Tonle Sap lake and migrate hundreds of miles north to spawning grounds in Thailand. Dams and human encroachment, however, have severely disrupted their lifecycle.
International efforts are under way to save the species. It is now illegal in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia to harvest giant catfish. And recently in Thailand, a group of fishers pledged to stop catching giant catfish to honor the king’s 60th year on the throne. However, enforcement of fishing restrictions in many isolated villages along the Mekong is nearly impossible, and illicit and bycatch takings continue.
Help Save the Colorado River
You can help restore freshwater ecosystems by pledging to cut your water footprint. For every pledge, Change the Course will restore 1,000 gallons back to the Colorado River.
Pete is a photographer and visual storyteller with an emphasis on freshwater conservation.
Sandra is a leading authority on international freshwater issues and is spearheading our global freshwater efforts.
For more than 15 years, Osvel Hinojosa Huerta has been resurrecting Mexico's Colorado River Delta wetlands.
Find out with our footprint calculator, then pledge to cut it!
Find out how much water it really takes to support your lifestyle.
Help lower your global water footprint and conserve water. Learn what you can do to help.