Giant freshwater ray in the Padma upriver

Written by Maisha Zahir and Anika Tabassum

Photo courtesy of Daily Bonik Barta

Once again, a B-I-G ray was caught recently in a Bangladeshi river. In the Padma. The riverine country is a suitable home for these fishes. But the reported catch of freshwater rays has become rare nonetheless.  

The appearance of this whipray was undoubtedly a pleasant surprise for the fishing community.

Photo courtesy of Bangalir Bangladesh

In the early morning of August 29, Ishak Sardar and his nephew Babu Sardar were out fishing in the Padma river near Daulatdia. As they started to pull the net out of the water, they noticed it was unusually heavy. Some six to seven people present on the boat could not lift the net up. So, they called for help from nearby boats. As the fishers pulled the net up together, they noticed a gigantic ray caught inside the net! 

The group of surprised fishers then carried the ray from the boat to a van. It was then taken to the fish market near the Daulatdia bus terminal. Trader Rezaul Islam put the ray weighing 410 kilograms up for sale in the market. 

It was purchased by another fish trader from Rajbari district, Kuti Mondol, for eighty thousand Taka. It was taken to the Rajbari fish market. The ray had gathered an eager crowd along the way, and it took almost two hours to get past the crowd and reach the market town in Goalanda. 

Rezaul Islam, owner of the fish market in Daulatdia, explained that he had last seen such a huge ray in the Padma River almost fifteen years ago. Rays usually remain close to the riverbed and do not usually get caught in traditional drift gillnets. Islam also said that perhaps strong waves in the Padma River might have pushed the ray to swim near the surface, ultimately into the net.

Local fish-worker Khir Mohan Biswas estimated the age of the ray to be around thirty to forty years. He has been cutting fish for decades in the Rajbari fish market. He last saw such a humongous Ray in Rajbari almost twenty years ago. The ray had a price tag of 500 takas per kilogram at the market and was sold for almost two lakh takas.

Source: Local media outlets

When trying to determine the species of this fish, senior scientists told us that it is a giant freshwater whipray. The scientific name of the fish is Urogymnus polylepis. We talked with Mohammed Eusuf Hasan, Scientific Officer of the Marine Fisheries Survey Management Unit of the Department of Fisheries, and Professor Dr. Kazi Ahsan Habib of the Sher-e-Bangla Agriculture University. 

The appearance of this whipray was undoubtedly a pleasant surprise for the fishing community. A lot of people considered this a blessing from the almighty, as the media reports suggest. It was no less than a festive occasion for the fishers and people of Daulatdia and Rajbari. 

Embedded video courtesy of Barishal Metro

However, this makes one wonder; is it supposed to be such a rare occurrence? Given that Bangladesh is an active delta crisscrossed by rivers, the country’s rivers are supposed to be an ideal home for rays. As its name suggests, the fish is very large and does not live in saltwater. But globally, their habitats — large rivers and coastal estuaries are increasingly degraded and encroached on by unsustainable infrastructure, industries, and agricultural practices. Rivers and estuaries in Bangladesh are no exception.