The world’s freshwater giants are dying

The Seattle Times –

Some of the most astonishing creatures on Earth hide deep in rivers and lakes: giant catfish weighing more than 600 pounds, stingrays the length of Volkswagen Beetles, 6-foot-long trout that can swallow a mouse whole.

There are about 200 species of so-called freshwater megafauna, but compared with their terrestrial and marine counterparts, they are poorly studied by scientists and little known to the public. And they are quietly disappearing.

After an exhaustive survey throughout the Yangtze River basin, researchers this month declared the Chinese paddlefish extinct. The paddlefish, last seen alive in 2003, could grow up to 23 feet long and once inhabited many of China’s rivers. Overfishing and dams decimated their populations.

The paddlefish may be a harbinger. According to research published in August in Global Change Biology, freshwater megafauna have declined by 88% worldwide in recent years.

“This study is a first step,” said Zeb Hogan, an aquatic ecologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, and a co-author of the study. “We want to go beyond just studying conservation status and look at ways to try to improve the situation for these animals.”