Conservationist catches 14-foot stingray in Thailand

giant stingray

If you’ve ever had occasion to see a giant ray gliding gracefully through the water, you understand what stunning creatures they are.

Prehistoric in appearance, stingrays and other rays possess an elegance of movement that is rare on land or sea.

Most stingrays are relatively small, but nature conservationist Jeff Corwin caught a massive 14-foot-by-8-foot beast recently in Thailand.

The stingray weighed as much as 800 pounds and was caught on rod and reel, according to Corwin, host of Ocean Mysteries.

The catch may set a new world’s record for the largest freshwater fish ever caught. The current record holder is a Mekong giant catfish, according to Guinness World Records.

“It was an incredible moment of adventure and science,” Corwin told USA TODAY Network. “Multiple people were on the rod and reel trying to pull this monster in,” he said, adding that it took two hours to secure the fish.

The stingray, which was pregnant, was released after capture.

Corwin was on location filming an upcoming episode of Ocean Mysteries along with Nantarika Chansue, an expert on stingrays who has been studying them in the region.

An embedded microchip in the stingray revealed that Chansue had caught the same animal six years prior, according to Corwin.

(Top: Image of giant stingray caught by Jeff Corwin March 6, 2015, in Thailand.)

Giant hornet attacks: Very real, very painful

asian giant hornet

A tidbit often trotted out to allay the anxiety of those who decline to so much as dip their toes in the ocean for fear of shark attack is that far more people die from insect stings each year than from man-eating fish.

The difference being, of course, that shark attacks generate considerable media attention while insect stings, even when they cause death, rarely make more than local news.

Not so in China, where more than two dozen people were recently killed and hundreds more injured in a wave of attacks by giant hornets.

Victims described being chased for a thousand feet or more by the creatures and stung as many as 200 times, according to The Guardian.

The culprit appears to be the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia), which grows up to two inches long with a quarter-inch sting.

It is the world’s largest hornet and is known colloquially as the “yak-killer hornet.”

The Asian giant hornet injects a particularly potent venom that can damage tissue. Its sting can lead to anaphylactic shock and renal failure.

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North Korea: the medal-makers’ mother lode

north korean medals

North Korea has been making headlines a great deal lately, and not for good reasons.

So-called Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un has spent the past few months engaged in sabre rattling to a degree that would have made his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, proud.

In a move that must have warmed the hearts of millions of impoverished North Koreans scraping to find enough food to keep their families from starving, the nation’s leadership announced intentions to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States, calling the US the “sworn enemy of the Korean people.”

A few days later, North Korea confirmed it was ending the 60-year armistice connected to the 1950-53 Korean War.

On March 30, Pyongyang declared it was in “a state of war” with South Korea, and Kim Jong-un stated that rockets were ready to be fired at American bases in the Pacific in response to the US flying two nuclear-capable B2 stealth bombers over the Korean peninsula.

While US intelligence officials speculate that Kim Jong-un is using the bluster to assert control over his country, and his ultimate goal is recognition rather than getting involved in a devastating conflict, the general consensus seems to be that the baby-faced dictator is decidedly unpredictable, if not eight kinds of crazy.

Which is just what the people of North Korea don’t need at this point.

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New species of huge spider found in Asia

Poecilotheria rajaei

Arachnophobes beware: an enormous, previously unknown species of spider as big as a human’s face and described as “fast and venomous” has been discovered in Asia.

Giant tarantulas with legs that span eight inches have been found in a remote village in Sri Lanka.

The spiders, which also have unusual yellow markings on their legs and a pink band around their bodies, were found living in the old doctor’s quarters of a hospital in the war-torn northern Sri Lankan province of Mankulam by scientists from Sri Lanka’s Biodiversity Education and Research organization.

The spiders belong to the genus Poecilotheria, an arboreal group indigenous to India and Sri Lanka that are known for being colorful, fast and venomous, according to the website

“As a group, the spiders are related to a class of South American tarantula that includes the Goliath bird-eater, the world’s largest,” it added.

The giant arachnids have been named Poecilotheria rajaei, in honor of Michael Rajakumar Purajah, a senior police official who led the research team through a hazardous stretch of jungle ravaged by civil unrest, according to The Telegraph.

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Patriarchs ponder Chinese centennial

The Chinese Republic turns 100 this week, as does Liu Peng-hua, a resident of Taiwan. Both have seen a century of tumultuous change.

When Liu was born in what is today the northeastern Chinese province of Liaoning, the nation had just deposed its last emperor, many women still had bound feet, and almost all men wore their hair braided into long ponytails, or queues, stretching down their backs, according to a story by Agence France-Presse.

“There were no bicycles or cars in our village,” Liu told the wire service at his home near Taiwan’s capital Taipei. “Most of the time when we needed to go somewhere, we travelled on foot or rode horses or donkeys. Whenever I think about it, it’s like a dream. So many things have happened since then. So much has changed.”

While the Republic of China was formally established on Jan. 1, 1912, on mainland China following the Xinhai Revolution, its roots began with the Wuchang Uprising which began on Oct. 10, 1911, and replaced the Qing Dynasty.

The revolution ended more than 2,000 years of imperial rule in China, but the republic itself only lasted until 1949 on the mainland.

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Giant saltwater croc may be getting company

A monster crocodile, reputed to be the largest in the world, is the star attraction at its own nature park in the Philippines. But it could be upstaged before long, say officials in the Southern Philippine town of Bunawan.

Customers are paying 20 pesos, or about 46 cents, to enter the compound in Bunawan, located in the province of Agusan del Sur, to see the 21-foot male saltwater crocodile, which was captured just a couple of weeks ago.

Bunawan Mayor Edwin Elorde hopes to secure what is believed to be an even larger crocodile that was sighted by residents of the largely rural town on the southern island of Mindanao.

“They saw it with their own eyes,” he said. “It was bigger. Our estimates are that it would be 25 to 30 feet long with body width of around four feet.”

The two huge crocodiles were sighted killing a water buffalo in August. So far, only one has been caught after a two-week long hunt.

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Vast treasure found beneath Hindu temple

In a story more akin to an Indiana Jones’ adventure, investigators have uncovered treasure worth as much as $20 billion or more beneath an Indian temple where it has accumulated for centuries.

Over the past couple of weeks, a seven-member team of investigators has broken into five of six secret subterranean vaults under Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, discovering repositories filled with sacks of diamonds piled next to tons of gold coins and jewels, according to Reuters.

Other items discovered include a one-foot golden idol of Mahavishnu and a golden “anki” weighing close to 30 kilograms (more than 65 pounds). The golden anki is used to adorn the presiding deity, who is in the eternal sleep posture, according to the International Business Times.

The inventorying of the vaults is being done by a seven-member panel appointed by India’s Supreme Court.

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Recalling Japan’s great quake of 1923

In the wake of last week’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the New York Times looks back on the now largely forgotten 1923 Great Kantō earthquake.

The quake, which was considerably less powerful than the 9.0 temblor that hit Japan last week, killed an estimated 140,000 Japanese. From the Times:

The earthquake hit in the early afternoon off the coast of Honshu, Japan’s most populous island, triggering unprecedented destruction. Ninety percent of the houses in a score of seaside towns collapsed in seconds. Passenger trains fell off railway bridges and plunged into the sea. A few minutes later, a 35-foot-high tsunami rolled in, sweeping away cars, houses and thousands of people, and burying entire towns in mud. Then came fires, fanned by winds and fueled by flimsy wooden houses, reducing much of what remained to ashes.

The quake leveled the port city of Yokohama and burned down more than 60 percent of Tokyo.

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Drawing a line in the lanthanide-laden sand

Concern over China’s monopoly of rare-earth minerals isn’t necessarily the disaster some believe it may be.

In September, the New York Times reported that China, in a trade tiff with Japan, stopped shipments of rare-earth minerals to its Asian neighbor. China denied this but the Times reported on Sept. 28 the Chinese government, while not admitting the existence of the ban, may have begun rescinding it.

Unless you’re a scientist or a periodic table of elements geek, rare-earth minerals might not strike a chord.

According to Foreign Policy, “Rare-earth minerals are the 15 elements in that funny box at the bottom of the periodic table – known as lanthanides – plus two others. About 95 percent of global production takes place in China, largely at one huge mining complex in Inner Mongolia.”

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Rare giant shark caught, eaten


Fishermen in the Philippines accidentally caught and later ate a megamouth shark, one of the rarest fishes in the world, with only 40 others recorded to have been encountered, the World Wildlife Fund reported last week.

The 1,100-pound, 13-foot megamouth died while struggling in the fishermen’s net on March 30 off Burias island in the central Philippines. It was taken to nearby Donsol in Sorsogon province, where it was butchered and eaten, according to a report in The Associated Press.

The first megamouth was discovered in Hawaii in 1976, prompting scientists to create an entirely new family and genus of sharks. Like the basking shark and whale shark, it is a filter feeder, and swims with its enormous mouth wide open, filtering water for plankton and jellyfish. Gregg Yan, a spokesman for WWF-Philippines, said the Burias megamouth’s stomach revealed it was feeding on shrimp larvae.

Megamouths are very large sharks, able to grow to 18 feet in length. Weights of up to 2,680 pounds have been reported. 

Yan said the fish was tagged “Megamouth 41” — the 41st megamouth recorded in the world — by the Florida Museum of Natural History. It was the eighth reported encountered in Philippine seas.

Others megamouths have been encountered in California, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Brazil, Ecuador, Senegal, South Africa, Mexico and Australia.

The Florida Museum of Natural History has extensive online information on the megamouth here.