Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

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Monday, 11 October 2010


The European giant catfish or wels - could 'Gums' be an undiscovered relative? (public domain)
One of the world's most famous explorers is, or was, Lieutenant-Colonel Percy Fawcett, who mysteriously vanished in 1925 while exploring the vast uncharted jungles of Brazil. Before his tragic disappearance, however, he had penned a fascinating account of his explorations in these lands, which was published in 1953 as Exploration Fawcett. It contains brief accounts of several mystifying creatures, but none more so than his supposed giant toothless shark or manguruyu, to give it its local name.
According to Fawcett, the Paraguay River contains: "a freshwater shark, huge but toothless, said to attack men and swallow them if it gets a chance". In reality, however, very few sharks inhabit freshwater, and those that do are far from toothless. So if such a shark really does exist, it is dramatically different from anything currently known to science. However, it may not be a shark at all.
British cryptozoologist Mike Grayson has opined that it could be a very large sturgeon, some species of which are vaguely shark-like and can attain great sizes. However, he concedes that this is a very tentative identification, acknowledging that sturgeons do not attack and swallow people, and that there is no known species of South American sturgeon to act as a zoogeographical precedent anyway.
My own feeling is that a catfish identity may be more plausible. There are more species of catfishes in South America than anywhere else, and some of these latter are among the world's largest too. In Europe, the giant wels catfish Siluris glanis often been accused (unjustly or otherwise) of swallowing people, but even if this aspect is wholly folkloric, the concept of a giant catfish existing in South America is by no means impossible. True, catfishes usually possess teeth at least on their vomer bone. However, old specimens of some species are entirely toothless - as in, significantly, the giant pa beuk Pangasianodon gigas of southern Asia's Mekong River. Up to 8 ft long, it is the world's largest species of fish confined entirely to freshwater, yet it amazingly remained undiscovered by science until as late as 1930.
Perhaps Fawcett's giant toothless shark - aptly dubbed 'Gums' by Grayson - is in reality an elderly edentate catfish, belonging to a still-undescribed extra-large species. Alternatively, as German cryptozoologist Markus Bühler has mentioned to me, South America's piraiba Brachyplatystoma filamentosum, a huge species of goliath catfish, has a deceptively shark-like body outline and is already known to grow up to 12 ft long - so who knows, reports of 'Gums' may have been based upon sightings of exceptionally large, geriatric piraibas.

Piraiba (public domain)


  1. My partner is partial to grilled catfish, as is popular in the southern US. I imagine these catfish would be partial more to him than the reverse.

  2. A facinating documentary on C4 titled River monsters looked at the possibility of man-eating fish in the Amazon, and there has been a documented case of a Catfish over 7 feet long that drowned a fisherman in India and had itself died while in the process of swallowing the poor individual.

  3. seems almost impossible it's NOT a piraiba, all the details fit well. Even has a shark-like dorsal fin. Google search lists a possible 'man eating' encounter.

  4. it's the jau, common in brazil, nothing mysterious about it. http://www.pesca.tur.br/peixes/agua-doce/jau/

  5. Off the coast of south-west England, we often see huge basking sharks - they are known to measure up to nine metres long and possess tiny teeth of around 5mm, filter-feeding plankton with their cavernous jaws opened wide.

    They feed close to land and often venture into bays and other inlets.

    I was just wondering if perhaps there is an ultra-rare freshwater basking shark out there?

  6. Thanks for the comments! I agree that the piraiba is by far the closest fit for Gums so far. In contrast, the jau is smaller and less shark-like, much more catfish-like, and is so common in Brazil that if this were all that Gums had been, surely Fawcett would have been informed of this by the locals. All the best, Karl

  7. piraibas are bigger than jaus but some jaus can grow to huge sizes as well, something very rare in our days but not in Fawcett's time. Impossible to determine which species Fawcett was talking about. I'm brazilian and I recall my father catching extremely large jaus in the 1950s. And before I forget, piraibas and jaus are very alike.

  8. I have heard an account of a man-eating jau. Apparently, it swallows people whole, and is toothless. I heard this on the BBC documentary Amazon Abyss. Maybe an extremely large specimen or a mutation creating a shark-like dorsal fin made Gums. As for a freshwater basking shark, those are plankton eaters, not man-eaters. But maybe Gums could be some sort of bull shark descendant, or a basking shark relative that started eating meat. In any case, however, if Fawcett was the last one to report it, it is probably extinct. For the love of bigfoot, Fawcett died at least 900 years ago!! But if there have been reports since, I'm all ears! Thanks for posting this fascinating article, Dr. Carl Shuker. Has anyone told you you're the next Heuvelmans?

  9. Someone has now! So thanks very much for the kind comment - hope you continue to enjoy my writings! All the best, Karl

  10. Catfish are remarkable in a number of ways. They can live in both salt water and fresh water and are voracious in their appetite. They will eat anything and some species attain monstrous sizes of 8 feet or more. Fish are generally mute but there is one species of Catfish with a voice! It makes a roaring sound. Its awesome. I believe that some sea monster and lake monster sightings and attacks can be traced to large fish such as Sturgeon and Catfish. The African lake monster known as the Lukwata is an aquatic monster from 12 to 100 feet long which makes bellowing roars and which kills and eats large Crocodiles. It will make unprovoked attacks on humans. Its very violent and bloodthirsty. The Lukwata is believed by some to be a Catfish as it has barb like structures on its face. I think its more likely a cetacean or a Whale of some kind. There are freshwater Dolphins in existence. Its either a Catfish or a whale in my opinion. Some believe the Lukwata is a Plesiosaur or a long neck such as Nessie. Others say the Lukwata is a serpent or snake of some kind albeit one with vocal chords. The Lukwatas bellowing roars can be heard from long distances. Large catfish 12 feet long exist in Lake Victoria and some believe this is what the Lukwata is while others say that those large catfish are the PREY of the Lukwata! An animal that can prey on large catfish and that can kill and eat the formidable Nile Crocodile is one of the most dangerous animals in the world. On animal planet channel one can see monstrous fish of all kinds and the Catfish ranks near the top of the list for monstrous fish. In a word Catfish are awesome.