Giant freshwater stingray

At half the length of a bus, the gargantuan freshwater stingray may be the largest fish swimming in freshwater on Earth today. At more than half a ton in size, large stingrays have been known to pull boats up and down rivers and even underwater.

Giant freshwater stingray or Freshwater whipray
(<i>Himantura chaophraya</i>).  rel=
Giant freshwater stingray or Freshwater whipray (Himantura chaophraya). The disk of this fish measured 202cm and 413cm from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail. Himantura chaophraya may be the largest species of freshwater fish in the world. More species of giant fish occur in the Mekong River than in any other river on earth. Populations of the giant stingray and other large-bodied Mekong fish are in decline.
© WWF-Canon / Zeb HOGAN
  • Scientific word

    Himantura chaophraya

  • Common name

    Giant freshwater stingray, freshwater whipray

  • Length

    Up to 5 metres

  • Weight

    Up to 600 kg

  • status

    Listed as Vulnerable by IUCN

    More info

Discovered in 2004

The Himantura kittipongi freshwater stingray and was first observed in 2004 but was only confirmed as a new species by researchers from WWF-Thailand and the US-based Smithsonian Institute in 2006. The new species was named Himantura kittipongi after prominent Thai fish expert Kittipong Jaruthanin who first observed the ray in 2004.

Experts believe that this fish, wide and flat in form, and sporting a long, whip-like tail, has changed little over many millions of years.

Where do they live?


The species is known to inhabit estuaries and large deep rivers, burying in sandy or silted river bottoms, to lie in wait for unsuspecting fish, clams and crabs, using a sensor that can detect an animal's electrical field.

Unusually, this species is occasionally sighted near urban centres of the region.

A very big ray


Scientists estimate that Himantura chaophraya can grow five metres and 600kg in size, certainly making it among the largest of the approximately 200 species of rays. The fish gives birth to live young measuring 30cm wide, so even the small ones are large!

Watch out for that barb


Though stingrays do not readily attack humans, they are one of the few Mekong giant fish that can pose a real danger to those who handle them. Their tail has a deadly barb at its base which can be as long as 38cm - the largest of any stingray - and can easily penetrate human skin and even bone, much like an arrow and typically inject poison.

Despite its mega dimensions and toxicity, surprisingly these nomadic species remain elusive and cloaked in mystery, only first being identified by scientists less than 20 years ago.

Chances for long-term survival are slim

Decades ago they were reported to be more common than they are now. This could be because of overharvesting, pollution and because their river habitats have degraded, and it appears they no longer inhabit some parts of their historical range.

Thai rivers have been plagued by serious pollution, overfishing and dam building, which have taken a deadly toll on Thailand's once diverse and abundant river life. The ray is believed to exist in only small numbers.

Populations of giant stingray are faring better than other Mekong giant fish. Experts suggest this may be because of the depth of the river these species inhabit as well as the fact that they are so difficult to catch.
 / ©: WWF Cannon Thailand
The Himantura Kittipongi freshwater stingray, found in the Mekong Basin of western Thailand
© WWF Cannon Thailand

Priority region

The giant freshwater stingray lives in the Greater Mekong, a priority region for WWF.

Did you know

  • Giant freshwater stingrays can be found in Australia, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Burma, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, and Vietnam

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