Iridescent shark

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Iridescent shark
Iridescent shark.jpg
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Siluriformes
Family: Pangasiidae
Genus: Pangasianodon
Species: P. hypophthalmus
Binomial name
Pangasianodon hypophthalmus
(Sauvage, 1878)

Helicophagus hypophthalmus Sauvage, 1878
Pangasius sutchi Fowler, 1937[2]
Pangasius hypophthalmus (Sauvage, 1878)

The iridescent shark (Pangasianodon hypophthalmus) is a species of shark catfish (family Pangasiidae) native to the rivers of Southeast Asia. It is not a shark. It is found in the Mekong basin as well as the Chao Phraya River, and is heavily cultivated for food there. The meat is often marketed under the common name swai. It has also been introduced into other river basins as a food source, and its striking appearance and iridescence have made it popular with fishkeeping hobbyists, among whom it is also known as the Siamese shark or sutchi catfish. The swai's omnivorous diet consists of crustaceans, other fish, and plant matter.[3]


The fish is named for the glow or iridescence exhibited in juveniles, as well as the shark-like appearance of this and other shark catfish. It is also known as Siamese shark or sutchi catfish by aquarium hobbyists.[4]


Adults reach up to 130 cm (4.3 ft) in length and can weigh up to a maximum of 44.0 kg (97.0 lb). They have a shiny, iridescent color that gives these fish their name. However, large adults are uniformly grey. The fins are dark grey or black. Juveniles have a black stripe along the lateral line and a second black stripe below the lateral line.[3]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

P. hypophthalmus migrations in the Mekong River. Orange: March to May
Dark green: May to September
Red: October to February
Shaded region: spawning region of the southern Mekong population between Khone Falls and Kratie

Iridescent sharks originate from the large rivers Chao Phraya and Mekong in Asia, though they have been introduced into other rivers for aquaculture. They are a freshwater fish that natively live in a tropical climate and prefer water with a 6.5–7.5 pH, a water hardness of 2.0–29.0 dGH, and a temperature range of 22–26 °C (72–79 °F).[3] They prefer large bodies of water similar to the deep waters of their native Mekong river basin.

The iridescent shark is a migratory fish that in most regions moves upstream to spawn during the flood season while the waters are high and returns downstream to seek rearing habitats when the river water levels recede. The dates of the migrations vary depending on the river system. In the Mekong river basin, they migrate upstream in May to July and return downstream during September through December. South of the Khone Falls, upstream migration occurs in October to February, with its peak in November to December; here, it appears to be triggered by receding waters at the end of the flood season.[3]

In August 2015, an environmental group in Santander, Colombia, confirmed that Iridescent sharks had been found in one of the tributaries that feed into the Magdalena river, having been accidentally introduced from illegal farm fisheries in the area. The find has caused alarm amongst the scientific community and government officials, as the Magdalena river is home to over 200 native fish species, 35 of which are endangered.[5]

Culinary profile[edit]

Swai fillet as sold in the United States

Pangasius does not have a gourmet reputation and is sold cheaply as swai (pronounced /swaɪ/) in the United States; panga (or pangas) in Europe or again Cream Dory and Basa is several Asian countries.

The poor reputation that Pangasius acquired in several countries can be mainly attributed to a 'wrong sale strategy,' as explained by Jean-Charles Diener, a Seafood Specialist in Vietnam, in an article published in 2012 by the magazine Vietfish International[permanent dead link] (magazine of VASEP)[permanent dead link] (P88-92). Despite its poor reputation, the success of Pangasius is remarkable as it recently has become one of the most successful whitefish species, comparable to the seawater catches of Cod and Alaska Pollack. The total export of Pangasius from Vietnam reached 1.8 Billion USD in 2014.[6]

The Pangasius fillets are an increasingly popular product because of their low cost, mild taste and firm texture. Recipes for other whitefish such as sole or halibut can be adapted to Pangasius.[7]

Pangasius is an omnivorous fish, thus it does not require a high level of animal protein in its diet. Typical grading sizes are: 3-5 oz, 5-7 oz, and 7-9 oz.[8]

In the aquarium[edit]

Pangasianodon hypophthalmus

While juvenile iridescent sharks are sold as pets for home aquariums, they are not easy fish to keep. While they can survive in a 40-gallon aquarium, iridescent sharks are schooling fish that prefer groups,[3] are accustomed to living in rivers, and are active fish that require space. They have very poor eyesight, so detected movement from outside of their habitat can be seen as a threat. If stressed, their first instinct is to flee; a blind dash can cause injury in an aquarium environment. These injuries may result in the fish sinking to the bottom, where it may lie on its side or back until it recovers.[4]

Iridescent sharks require a minimum tank size of 12 m (39 ft) to develop naturally. Schools require even larger tanks. If given enough room and fed adequately, they can reach 1 m (3.3 ft) in length. In most home aquaria, the lack of space stunts their growth. For this reason, most iridescent sharks kept in home aquaria grow to 15 to 30 cm (6 to 12 in) in length only and may die prematurely. When provided adequately-sized aquaria and proper husbandry, iridescent sharks may live into its teens and grow to full size.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vidthayanon, C. & Hogan, Z. (2011). "Pangasianodon hypophthalmus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 24 November 2012. 
  2. ^ "Pangasius hypophthalmus". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved February 7, 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2012). "Pangasianodon hypophthalmus" in FishBase. February 2012 version.
  4. ^ a b Axelrod, Herbert, R. (1996). Exotic Tropical Fishes. T.F.H. Publications. ISBN 0-87666-543-1. 
  5. ^ "Alerta por amenaza del pez basa en el río Magdalena". El Tiempo. 1 October 2015. 
  6. ^ Thang, Luu Viet. "Sector profile". Retrieved 2016-02-15. 
  7. ^ VASEP. "The three key steps to restore the image of Pangasius" (PDF). Vietfish International: 88. [permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "Chef's Resources - Swai Fish Profile". Retrieved 2012-06-22. 
  9. ^ Aqualand Pets

External links[edit]