By SETH MYDANS
HAT KHRAI, Thailand – The monster fish announced itself with four huge whacks of its tail, thrashing against the net that had trapped it in the pale brown water of the Mekong River.
It was a rare giant catfish the size of a grizzly bear, and it took five boatmen an hour to pull it in and 10 men to lift it when they reached the shore in this remote village in northern Thailand.
Only after their catch had been chopped into pieces and sold did they learn how special it was. At nine feet in length and weighing 646 pounds, it may be the biggest freshwater fish ever recorded.
But in one of the world’s more surprising mysteries, nobody really knows which is the biggest species of fish lurking under the waters of the Mekong or the Amazon or the Yangtze or the Congo or the Colorado or Lake Baikal.
When the giant catfish was caught in May, a biologist named Zeb S. Hogan rushed here to take a look. It was his first trophy in a project to identify and study the world’s largest freshwater fish in the hope of slowing their extinction.
Sponsored by the National Geographic Society and the World Wildlife Fund, Mr. Hogan has embarked on an 18-month expedition that will take him to five continents and more than a dozen rivers.
“I guess it’s like looking for Bigfoot,” he said. Some species may already be too rare to study.
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