Armed To The Teeth: Africa’s Terrifying Goliath Tigerfish
The Goliath Tigerfish may be the most fearsome fish you’ll ever see – and you’d better hope it doesn’t see you first! Ferocious in temperament, armed to the gills with 32 razor-sharp teeth and accustomed to hunting in packs, the Terror Of The Congo makes piranhas seem like pussycats and The Incredible Mr. Limpet look, well, limp.
The Goliath Tigerfish is little-known to most people owing to its relative isolation in Africa’s Congo River system, and let’s be thankful for that fact at least!
The Congo is one of the world’s largest rivers; second only to the Amazon by flow, it ranks first in depth. At up to 750 feet (230 m) deep, Goliath Tigerfish have plenty to space in which to lurk for their prey – which comprises just about anything that moves.
Avowed angler L.J. McCormick acknowledged as early as 1949 that “I have stated heretofore in print and am still ready to maintain my pronouncement, that the Tigerfish of Africa is the fiercest fish that swims.”
Here’s a video clip from the National Geographic TV special that introduced many to the Tigerfish – and introduced the Tigerfish to their nightmares:
A total of 5 different species of Tigerfish form the genus Hydrocynus, which can roughly be translated from Greek to mean Water (hydro) and Dog (kyon). Considering the fish’s avidly wolfish grin it’s not hard to make sense of the naming but rest assured, Tigerfish are anything but Man’s Best Friend.
(image via: Crankbaits)
The 5 species of Tigerfish are Hydrocynus goliath, Hydrocynus vittatus, Hydrocynus brevis, Hydrocynus forskahlii, and Hydrocynus tanzaniae. All are noticeably toothy and feature one or more dark, lengthwise stripes: both these characteristics plus their infamous “pugnacity” contribute to the colloquial name of Tigerfish.
While the Goliath Tigerfish is by far the largest of the 5 species (more of that later), the second-largest is the “common” tigerfish (Hydrocynus vittatus). The southernmost type of tigerfish, Hydrocynus vittatus can be found in the commonly found in the Zambezi River and the two largest lakes connnected to it: Lake Kariba (in Zambia and Zimbabwe) and Cabora Bassa (in Mozambique). Tigerfish have also been known to inhabit the reservoir of the Jozini Dam in South Africa.
Tigerfish have been officially classified as a game fish by the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) and the species has garnered a reputation among sport fishermen as “one of the best freshwater fighters.” It’s said to be good eating as well, firm of flesh though tending to be slightly oily. Anglers interested in fishing for Tigerfish can register for The Kariba International Tiger Fish Tournament, first held in 1962. Buffet following, one presumes.
Common Tigerfish are stocked by many aquarium supply dealers in Europe and North America and are typically sold to hobbyists when they are under 7″-8″ (about 18 cm) long. Some precautions are recommended to potential owners, mainly concerning the size of both the tank and the other denizens – the latter should be larger than the Tigerfish. As time goes by that could become problematic, however, as common Tigerfish can grow up to 30 inches (75 cm) in length and weigh up to 100 lbs (45 kg). One would hope (and pray, even) that frustrated owners take care NOT to release Tigerfish into domestic waterways.
Oh, guess what? Anecdotal reports from Nicaragua in Central America indicate the Goliath Tigerfish has gained a foot, er, finhold in the Rio San Juan near El Castillo. Nicaraguan officials are said to be concerned about the possibility of Goliath Tigerfish getting into Lake Nicaragua and natives of Rio San Juan who customarily fish by wading in the river with nets may need to take new precautions – such as staying the heck out of the river!
Speaking of size, let’s get back to the Goliath Tigerfish: these monsters (literally) have been measured (carefully) at up to 6 feet (1.8 m) long and up to 125 lbs (57 kg) in weight. As such, they rank with some of the world’s largest freshwater fish. Unlike Giant Catfish, however, Goliath Tigerfish are no slugs. Powerful muscles and a broad, tuna-like tail enable even the most massive members of the species to chase down most any type of prey. Once caught, those fearsome fangs come into play.
Goliath Tigerfish are ambush predators and their usual hunting technique evolved through countless generations living out their lives in the murky depths of the Congo River. Dissection of Tigerfish have revealed an internal air sac that reacts to vibrations much like a drum, alerting the fish to movement nearby. At this point the fish reflexively swings into attack mode, mouth first. The result is all too predictable.
(image via: Daily Mail UK)
Goliath Tigerfish, are you ready for your closeup? Ready or not, here it comes: British extreme angler Jeremy Wade documented his experience catching the Goliath Tigerfish for ITV’s River Monsters television program earlier this year – North Americans can find it on either Animal Planet or The Discovery Channel.
The 52-year-old Wade has seen a lot in his many years of exotic angling but the 5-ft (1.5 m) long, 100 lb (45 kg) Goliath Tigerfish he caught while filming an episode of River Monsters had to be one of the highlights. It took Wade 8 days to finally land this particular Goliath Tigerfish after first hooking it using a large catfish for bait. Said Wade, “It is, for all intents and purposes, a giant piranha. It is quite a beast.”
(image via: Metro UK)
Wade nervously posed with the still-living Goliath Tigerfish so that film crews could get their fill of the creature before Wade returned it to the river. Commented Wade afterward, “The teeth on it are incredibly sharp and are about the same length as a great white shark. It also has an extremely powerful bite and has been known to consume prey the same size as itself, attack people and take pieces out of crocodiles.” Nice. Next time you throw out the challenge “you want a piece of me??”, be sure there isn’t a Goliath Tigerfish in the vicinity.
Here’s a teaser video from Animal Planet showing Jeremy Wade reeling in his exhausted (though still exceptionally dangerous) opponent. “Deadliest Catch”, you’ve got some not-yet-stiff competition: