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The Chernobyl Monster Fish

Don’t worry, the mutant fish of Chernobyl is merely a city legend that has no empirical basis what so ever. However, the video of a huge catfish that dwelled calmly in the waters of a local pond managed to get a lot of traction. People who saw that immediately jumped on the bandwagon and the legend started to form. Some even made up pseudo-scientific theories about radiation and how it affects local living organisms by turning them into scary monstrosities. We don’t want to disappoint you, but radiation is not at fault here.

A big size is not always a good thing and growing to such metrics is nearly impossible in normal circumstances due to nutrition shortage and the problem between spending energy to move around and consuming enough food to compensate energy waste. Giant catfish did not mutate. It just had perfect environment to grow continuously.

The photo from Sportex Italia/Facebook

Scientists note that excessive growth is rarely a consequence of artificial mutation. In fact, mutants grow inefficiently and waste a lot of nutrients. They are less effective hunters and die off very quickly without even leaving offspring. This reason alone is enough to claim that the monster fish is not a mutant created by excess radiation.

Chernobyl giants are impressive when it comes to measurements. Some of them are truly remarkable creatures who reach extreme weights (up to 360 kilograms or 800 pounds). However, even these numbers are fiction in many cases. A typical catfish is relatively small but some individuals may grow to impressive sizes and reach 350-400 pounds. One of the biggest exemplars ever measured was “only” 160 kilograms. In Chernobyl ponds the fish lives freely without any external threat from natural predators. The fish grows comfortably and feeds sufficiently which means that some exemplars exist in a perfect environment to reach an abnormal size.

The photo from Sportex Italia/Facebook

These fishes do not die to enemies and don’t have to compete for food since there is an abundance of organic waste available. Local catfish lives here comfortably and over the course of years it turned into a weird tourist attraction with millions of people wondering whether there are supermutants ready to jump out of dark waters of Chernobyl ponds.

So, these fish were not made massive by radiation. We repeat, for a start, your first clue when determining if a fish has been negatively impacted by radiation is the animal's overall fitness. Being large and in charge takes a lot of energy, which is why we almost never see sick fish reaching their full growth potential.

"Very, very few mutations lead to extra-large size," explains University of South Carolina radiation specialist Dr Timothy Mousseau. ", they grow less efficiently, they're less capable of catching food and they tend to not live as long." This is also the reason (among many others) why we must rule out radiation as a possible explanation for the size of this "Fukushima mutant" wolffish.

Among the hefty residents of the Chernobyl pond are wels catfish (Silurus glanis), a species known to reach gargantuan proportions across much of its range. As for the maximum size of these aquatic giants, a quick Google search will turn up stories of 800 pound (362kg) record-breakers – and while these are typically exaggerations (or misidentified beluga sturgeon), it's entirely feasible for a wels to reach 350 pounds (158kg) under the right conditions.

Italian fisherman Dino Ferrari managed to catch and release this colossal wels back in May, and as you can see, its size far surpasses that of the "radioactive monsters" filmed in Chernobyl:

The photo from Sportex Italia/Facebook

Chernobyl's cooling pond offers the catfish populations an isolated habitat, one that's free from predators and packed with ample prey. Catfish are both active predators and scavengers, known to feed on fish, amphibians, worms, birds and even small mammals. In fact, the fish will eat just about anything – alive or dead – that can fit into their very large mouths, and here at Chernobyl, they have virtually no competition for food.

This brings us to our next point: catfish have been cruising Chernobyl's cooling pond for years. Over time, they've become a tourist attraction, and though some specimens are thought to be up to ten years old, that's positively youthful for fish that can live to over 50.

The animals even drew the attention of Jeremy Wade, host of Animal Planet's River Monsters (cue dramatic editing, pulse-pounding music, ominous voiceover and, oh, some fishing.) The Chernobyl fish caught by Wade, we're told, were "16 times more radioactive than normal" – and although that sounds pretty alarming, detectable does not always mean dangerous, as we've explained before.

Three decades after the worst nuclear accident in history, experts are still working to unravel just how the region's increasingly abundant wildlife is being affected by the radiation – but the fish swimming in Chernobyl's pond seem to be feeding, reproducing ... and growing! (We just wouldn't recommend snacking on them.)[1]

[1] During the preparation of the article were used the materials of the site https://www.earthtouchnews.com/wtf/wtf/yes-there-are-giant-catfish-in-chernobyls-cooling-pond-but-theyre-not-radiation-mutants/