Have Giant Indian Catfish Developed a Taste for Human Flesh?

Researchers have been dispatched to the Great Kali river in India to study whether a form of giant catfish called goonches have taken to preying on humans. The Indians traditionally burn their dead in the river, which, according to local lore, has led in two ways to the fish attacking humans: #1 - because the fish have dined on a steady diet of corpses they have grown unusually large; #2 - eating dead humans has resulted in their developing a taste for flesh which may be leading them to see live humans as a viable source of food.

i-94f440f9762df313176f33ca5c3275ca-Jeremy Wade.jpg
Biologist or redneck? You decide!

The first supposed incident of a goonch attack came in 1988 when a 17-year old Nepalese boy was pulled under by an unknown animal when he was cooling himself in the water. Only a few months ago, however, an 18-year old Nepalese boy was...

...killed by what witnesses called an "elongated pig" while swimming in the river. Could it be that the goonches have taken to attacking humans? Could it also be that they only eat delicious teenagers from Nepal?

The story is aggressively pursued by English angler/biologist/television personality, Jeremy Wade. He has already caught a specimen that was 161 lbs. and over 6 ft. long, large enough probably to maybe drown a swimming human. Wade has immediately discredited the theory that crocodiles are responsible for the attacks, saying, "If a crocodile were to have perpetrated these attacks on humans, stories about me would not have appeared in a few crappy newspapers, thereby making it highly unlikely that crocodiles are to blame and much more likely that giant mutant catfish who normally subsist on a diet of small prawns and insects are the culprits."

There's some sort of TV show documenting Wade's discoveries coming up. The trailer can be found below.


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I've actually seen Wade's first two series in the UK and they were quite interesting. The first was after arapaima/piraracu in Brazil and was very good, the second, based on Victorian tales of derring do was in Goonch territory but focused mainly on big Mahseer.

He's a rather amusing chap who is obviously doing everything on a bit of a budget and making a tv show to fund his dream trips and he kind of bumbles his way from adventure to adventure with helpful/not so helpful advice from the locals. Worth a look if you can track it down, especially the Brazil stuff.

My personal theory is that there is an as yet undiscovered species of aquatic elongated carnivorous pig living in the Great Kali river. Either that, or bigfoot is involved somehow...

Wonder why it is necessary to refer to large specimens of catfish as mutants?

Piranhas are in fact a formidable fish. Their natural range is from the Orinoco drainage in Venezuela and Colombia south to about the middle of Argentina. They are easily caught on hook and line and are probably one of the major fishes eaten by subsistance fishermen. I know several people who have been bitten by a piranha. I've been in the water with them many times. I have photos of my son and me waist deep in water fishing for and catching piranhas. About three is all you can catch on a Mepps spinner before your treble hook is just a shank with no points. When you go in the water, local people will tell you to be careful of sting rays, and maybe electric eels, but will never say anything about piranha.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 12 Oct 2008 #permalink

This story is awesome. Imagine having a swim in a river and then coming across a 6 foot catfish. There should be a Hollywood movie of this.

Re: these TV shows, I don't like sensationalization of any living creature especially when it is linked to the human fear instinct. But that seems to be the only way we can see animals and fish on TV, if they are killing something or being killed (hunting shows). So we have to promote fear of nature and play it up on TV because people would supposedly not be interested in a merely educational program.

Truth is humans kill more humans than anything else, starting with the mundane motor vehicle accident. But that is not sensational.

If size is what counts, sturgeon get over 20 feet, at least they used to until we fished all the big ones out.

Truth is humans kill more humans than anything else, starting with the mundane motor vehicle accident. But that is not sensational.

I have been catching Goonch in River Indus at Chashma Barrage ,Mianwali Pakistan. The biggest one was 37 kgs and I am sure the ones that got away were bigger. However I saw one caught in the nets by the local fisherman. It was well over 6.5 feet and weighed 70+ kgs. A monster.
Now a story passed down to me by my maternal uncle who as a child used to fish with his father in the rivers and streams of UP India. He was told not to eat a MULLy( an Indo -Pakistani catfish) bigger than 4-5 pounds. Reason: because some bigger fish caught were found to have human parts in their stomachs.
Another interesting fact about Mullies.
My grand father was able to attract Mullies in a given area by making clicking sounds by banging babboo sticks under water. I did not believe it till David Attenborough explained that in muddy waters catfish find each other by making clickin sounds.
These fish are not some mutants but simply fish trying to feed on anything available to them.

By Pervez Khan (not verified) on 17 Apr 2010 #permalink