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River Monsters - Killer Snakehead
Snakehead research by Jeremy Wade, Eddy Mounce & Discovery

Discovery Channel's Jeremy Wade joined with Fish Thailand to research and film Giant Snakehead facts & fishing in Thailand for Animal Planet's River Monsters - Killer Snakehead episode.

Jeremy Wade & Eddy Mounce together research the Killer Snakehead for River Monsters
Jeremy dives with Dar to catch a giant snakehead
Jeremy Wade fishing in Thailand for giant snakehead
River Monsters - Jeremy Wade & Eddy Mounce Research Killer Facts

Fish myths, legends & incredible stories derive from all countries & cultures many of which come from fishermen. Jeremy Wade's TV show called 'River Monsters' is really the first of it's kind; scientifically & practically picking apart these myths & stories to discover just how much truth lies behind the tales. The article written by Eddy Mounce below, recalls snakehead facts & true stories gathered from his extensive research with Jeremy Wade, Stephen Gooder and the Animal Planet team.

Briefing From Animal Planet - Discovery Channel

When Discovery Channel's Animal planet Team contacted me to help with the research and fishing in Thailand for the 'Killer Snakehead' episode of River Monsters, at first I was a little dubious that they would find the stories they were hoping for. I was told they needed any stories of people being attacked or killed by snakehead in Thailand, I was being asked questions such as 'is it possible for a snakehead to kill a human?' and 'do you think it is possible to find snakehead attack victims?' Previous episodes of River Monsters had covered fish such as Piranha, sharks, alligator gar & many other species which could obviously cause harm and no doubt have stories true and false linking them to deaths and injuries. The Giant Snakehead however was a much smaller specie in comparison (except the pariah but is deadly due it's vast shoaling nature). A snakehead does not hunt in vast shoals and I always thought could be compared to a pike - which would disappear at the first commotion of people swimming - not attack them. I expressed my concerns to Jeremy Wade and the director Steven Gooder that I was sceptical a snakehead would attack a person, their response was 'have you ever asked?' They had a point, I had never asked around, and agreed to help them with their research in Thailand. I was intrigued at the prospect of our mission to say the least.

Jeremy Wade Discovery Channel filming Killer Snakehead episode of River Monsters in Thailand
Jeremy Wade also filmed & fished for Siamese carp & Mekong catfish in Bangkok

On the Road in Search of the Truth

The road trip with Jeremy and Stephen began at Khao Laem Dam, partly because I knew so many locals in this area and also because there is a big head of snakeheads. Meeting with my Fish Thailand guides at the dam, there were no stories to be found until we visited a local restaurant near the dam which I know very well. The owner told us of a man who was killed by a snakehead a few years ago nearby, he only knew as much as that but did point us in the direction of a man living on a raft some kilometers away who knew the story better. After driving back to the dam and making our way by boat to the raft, we were greeted by a man who knew a little of the story. He informed us that the man was spear fishing for snakeheads and was killed by one on Srinakarin Dam - not at all Khao Laem Dam where we were.

Jeremy Wade Discovery Channel filming Killer Snakehead epsidoe of River Monsters in Thailand
Discovery Channel's Jeremy Wade & Fish Thailand's Eddy Mounce

Tracking Death Across Thailand

Hearing a slightly different version of a fisherman's death caused by a Giant snakehead attack we decided to follow it to Srinakarin Dam - the dam 100km away where this allegedly took place. On arrival at the dam we headed straight for the closest fishing village whereby we began talking to a young lad who told us of the same story we kept hearing - how a snakehead killed a fisherman; he was very helpful and suggested we went not far to the next village where they know the story much better. Indeed we were met with wonderful hospitality and the story was related in great detail and plenty of enthusiasm. Two years ago a man went spear fishing on Srinakarin Dam, he and his wife left by boat in search of snakehead 'fry balls' which are protected by the adult snakehead. He was not after the fry but after the adult, while under water 8m deep on a single breath he was 'rammed' by a snakehead causing the air in his lungs to expel causing him to drown before he could reach the surface, his wife in the boat waited for some time before going for help. We even established the name of the deceased father and his location on the dam - apparently he moved away from the area after the incident to another part of the dam. This was our strongest lead to finding a true account of how a snakehead killed a human, it was getting late in the day but we had to follow this up.

Jeremy Wade shows snakehead fry in captivity before going in search of a wild 'fry ball.'
Snakehead fry are bright red or orange guarded by both parent snakehead

A Shocking Discovery - Man Killed by Fish - Not a Giant Snakehead

A long drive around mountains and through jungle later, now in the darkness we found the father of the snakehead victim's home. I spoke with people sat close by to his home who knew him very well - I felt easier talking to them first rather than risk upsetting the father. The entire story at this point took an unexpected twist, it turns out that he was the deceased uncle not his father and the fish that killed his nephew was not a giant snakehead it was an Asian redtail catfish. He was not accompanied by his wife in the boat but took upon this hunt alone, he had recently found an underwater cave holding a shoal of Asian redtail catfish and was keeping it quiet. For the past few days he successfully dived to this spot and shot several weighing 45lb-65lb. Also his death was not caused from the fish ramming him but instead he shot at a specimen over 80lb but had not struck any vital organs. With the gun tied tight around his wrist the fish swam into deeper water dragging him with it until he was entangled 16m down in the trees and snags; this is where he was found by local police divers later that day. This is the true story recorded and backed up with local police statements. It was agreed that there was no need to speak directly with the father, we had our conclusion but were still nowhere nearer the snakehead that killed a human - if at all this had any truth to it.

Mr 'Dar', Khao Laem Dam's Most Experienced Spear Fisherman

Jeremy & Stephen were to fly back to England shortly before coming back in a couple of weeks to interview and film the reenactment of the killer snakehead story, accompanied by the cameras and full crew. I was asked to track down more stories by myself the following week, more specifically reveal if there was any truth behind the story of the man killed by a snakehead. I had an inkling to travel back to Khao Laem Dam but this time concentrate my search in the north end of the dam at Sangkhlaburi The first local fisherman I met was a young lad called 'Bor,' who although himself had no killer snakehead stories did have an older friend who was a spear fisherman called 'Dar.' We boated over to meet Dar and I must say - he is one of the happiest, peaceful men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting - his face seemed to be a permanent smile but looking through this were a lifetime of stories and knowledge gained from his diving. Dar recalled a story of his own occurring not long ago while spear diving for adult snakeheads protecting their fry. In this situation the smaller of the parents being the male would stay closest to the big ball of fry in order to guide them up for air at the waters surface on regular intervals. Snakehead must surface for atmospheric oxygen and while the males is guiding the fry the female being the larger of the pair will patrol the perimeter of the fry ball and guiding male to fend off predators trying to feed on their fry. As Dar explained in great detail - this is when the snakehead are at their most aggressive and any good spear fisherman will know to first of all look for, and take out the female. After the female has been taken out there is no serious risk from the male as he must stay with his fry to guide them - just as long as you don't get too close. Dar actually is quite a conservationist - he only takes one of the adults - never the pair as then the fry would also die. In some cases where by the female can not be found immediately, Dar will shoot at the male in full knowledge that the once removed, the female will reverse her role to become the guiding adult and not the guard. Dar on one occasion has had the female front up to him in eight meters of water as big as 24lb but he knows when a snakehead this big is facing square onto you, you must not shoot. This is for two reasons, one you only have one shot with a spear gun and if you miss you will be in big trouble. The second reason is that even if you hit a bulls eye, the incredible hard armored skull of a snakehead will unlikely be fatally penetrated by the spear. This second reason why Dar, an experience spear fisherman of 30 years has never actually been successfully attacked by a snakehead - instead of shooting in this position he uses his long spear in a stabbing motion until the fish turns side on to him. Once side on the target area has opened up and with it exposing all vital organs of a snakehead to get a clear shot at, which he successfully did of this 24lb snakehead in question. Dar did know of another snakehead fisherman called 'Lang' living an hour by boat away on Khao Laem Dam who has a story of a close friend who died while hunting snakehead in this manner, could this be the mixed up story which we tracked all the way to Srinakarin Dam previously only to find an unrelated tale of tragedy? Next stop, Lang's raft.

Jeremy Wade spear fishing in Thailand for giant snakehead
Jeremy Wade goes diving with Dar - Khao Laem's most experienced spear fisher

The True Story of a Man Killed by a Giant Snakehead

I will never forget my first visit to Lang's floating raft on Khao Laem Dam. As my new young friend and boatsman 'Bor' pulled alongside Lang's raft I made polite introductions to those on the raft which turned out to be Lang's mother, wife and children. After I explained to them that I was interested in snakehead stories for Discover Channel's Animal Planet, they welcomed me into their home to wait for Lang to return from a hunt. I noticed that the mother was firing up a burner in expectation of their breakfast to shortly arrive to them. Half an hour later and the sound of Lang's long tail boat could be heard approaching, aboard his boat were three men dressed as though they had been into battle and armed with rifles accompanied also by two gun dogs. Lang I quickly discovered is not one to mix words, he talks directly and honestly and makes no particular effort to be polite; although he seemed to like me and after giving his mother a large lizard and several birds to prepare he sat with me. After a few minutes of general fishing chit chat to break the ice I began asking questions about if he or anyone he knows has encountered any injuries from snakehead attacks while spear fishing for them. Lang immediately pulled up his trouser leg to show me an impressive old scar given to him from a giant snakehead while he was spear fishing. The incident occurred when after he had shot the male snakehead guiding the fry, from behind the larger female who guards the perimeter had lunged at his calf taking with it a nice chunk. Lang explained he knows to locate the female first but she was not to be found and so decided to target the male. The next story from Lang to grace my ears was to horrify me and also excite me - that finally I had indeed found the true story about the man who was killed by a snakehead. It was indeed Lang's friend to whom was the victim of the following tragic tale, occurring two years ago in the southern regions of Khao Laem Dam. The spear fisherman and his wife set out in their long tail boat to find snakehead fry balls, which in turn as learnt from this article you will know means there must also be the two parent snakeheads close by. Diving down to be met by a 22lb female giant snakehead, he was faced with a 'stare down' as the snakehead fronted him less than one meter from his diving mask - square on. He shot at the snakehead, hitting it in the head as the spear dug into it's armour plating. This strike was not lethal, far from it and the snakehead immediately thrust towards the fisherman in an offensive attack. The rear end of the spear, a pointed length of metal pierced through the dive mask and impaled through his forehead. At this point the fisherman was thought to be instantly killed but the fish still was not and as it wriggled and twisted; so too was the spear wriggled and twisted working its way through the fisherman's skull and exiting out from the back of his head. The fisherman never surfaced due to the cord attaching the spear to the gun had entangled around the underwater jungle of trees and snags. The wife who was on board the boat above knew she had lost her husband and after some time without a body appearing she went for help and later the body was recovered. As Lang told the story I felt as though for him this was all in the past, although for such an incredible story I wondered to myself that really not many people know the true facts or indeed this story at all. It took me many days of research to find the truth behind this story, and after tracking mythical and inaccurate leads to other dams in Thailand I found myself sitting in front of the very man who's knows all too well the facts and truth behind his friend's death.

Lang - snakehead attack survivor speaks with Jeremy Wade presenter of River Monsters
Lang - snakehead attack survivor speaks with Jeremy Wade presenter of River Monsters
Lang - a snakehead attack survivor speaks with Jeremy Wade

Conclusion - Is the Giant Snakehead a Man killer?

If asked a different way - if the snakehead in the above recollections of attacks were not fish but instead people; you would have to ask yourself 'would I attack a man threatening the life of my young? In all these accounts there has been one common fact throughout; the snakehead have all been faced with a threat to their fry - in all cases a spear fisherman. Most other freshwater fish species would flee to conserve their own life but the snakehead is much different from most other freshwater fish species. Beginning from before spawning as the water levels in the dams and rivers drop after the dry season, they build nests in the grassy shallows sometimes mere feet from the marginal bank side. These nests are built by the large adult fish swirling a 'whirl-pool' like pattern in the long grasses to create what can sometimes look like a miniature underwater crop-circle. Soon after the monsoon season delivers torrents of rain fall and the water levels begin to rise triggering the snakeheads which are now paired up with a spawning partner to lay and fertilise the eggs in the nest - and then together guard this nest. A few weeks later the eggs hatch into thousands of bright red coloured fry and are then guided away from their nest to look for food and move with the rising water. For the best part of half a year adult snakehead spend their every living second protecting their fry, the male guides them to the surface for breaths while the female patrols the perimeter and guards her family. Once the fry are big enough to predate and feed by themselves the parents leave, often retiring to deeper water away from the margins until the next monsoon, the next spawning season. All of these snakehead attack victims have been spear fisherman hunting the adult snakehead while they have their fry in tow. Even though they are aware of the risks hunting an adult snakehead with their fry, it is the easiest time to find the big snakehead and therefore make a successful catch. Outside of these 'parental' months the large snakehead will be way out in the depths of the dams where locating them can impossible; should though a large snakehead with no fry be approached and threatened by a spear fisherman, it would not attack; it would merely swim away. This brings me to my conclusion, is the giant snakehead a man killer? The answer is, when not parenting - absolutely not, but while parenting the evidence and research shows that it will attack any approaching threat - even man.

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