Biology teacher and writer, Jeremy Wade, hosts the new series River Monsters on Animal Planet. Wade spoke to realscreen about why the show is breaking records for the network and what kinds of freaky fish he’s encountered in his travels.
Jeremy Wade estimates he’s probably been fishing since he was eight. Back then it was just something all the boys in his village did, and something parents encouraged their kids to do to stay out of trouble.
As he began to take fishing more seriously he realized that the activity was less an escape from the rat race than it was the entrance into a new one, as fishing became more popular and British waters became overcrowded. It wasn’t until he heard about fishing for mahseer in India that he picked up his rod again, and hasn’t looked back since.
This hunt for mahseer in India was the beginning of his search for exotic and dramatic fresh water fish in other parts of the world and, today, they’re featured in Icon Films’ River Monsters which has been breaking viewership records on Animal Planet since it started on April 5. ‘I think if they lived in the sea there would have been entire programs devoted to them,’ he says, talking about the unusual fish he has come across in murky waters. ‘The fact that they live in fresh water means that nobody’s really heard of them. The normal approach to making wildlife programs doesn’t really work in fresh water, mainly because a lot of fresh water is a bit murky and muddy, and if you send somebody down with a camera they’re just not going to see anything. It does require this different approach.’
The approach he’s talking about is to investigate the stories and myths behind the tales from lakes and rivers and then go fishing for some of these ‘monsters’ in order to show some of these fish on television for the first time.
Wade feels that River Monsters has been breaking viewership records at Animal Planet because the team behind the show are both revealing fish that have never before been seen, and telling stories that are very dramatic. ‘In most of the programs we’re talking about river fish that are sort of the size of a person, and I think that’s quite a surprise to a lot of people that there can be animals that big in a river,’ says Wade.
One of the most dramatic, or the most frightening, tales concerns the candiru, a fish found in the Amazon that is rumored to be able to swim up one’s stream of urine and into their body, even if they’re not in the water. While that story is not verified, Wade tracked down the one documented case of a candiru ‘attack,’ a man who had the narrow, spiny fish surgically removed from his, ahem, member. ‘We found the victim, we found the surgeon who took it out, and we found the fish which is still sitting in a jar in this research institute and we got everybody together and presented the evidence that this isn’t just a myth, it is something that’s very rare but it does happen,’ says Wade. The one thing that really stood out for Wade during this reunion of fish and victim, was the victim’s reaction to seeing the fish again. ‘When I showed it to him he almost couldn’t keep his eyes off of it, partly because it just was so big; it was 12cm and this thing just completely disappeared up inside him.’ If you have the stomach for it, the candiru story airs May 10 in the Piraiba episode.