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What It Takes '05:
Hard Science

Photo: Zeb Hogan wrangles a carp

Biologist Zeb Hogan talks about wrangling giant fish in the Mekong River. 
Hear Zeb's tallest fish tale

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Hard Science: Zeb Hogan, Rare-Fish Wrangler 
As told to McKenzie Funk   Photograph by Em Samy/Cambodian Department of Fisheries
Photo: Zeb Hogan wrangles a giant carp in Cambodia's Tonle Sape River
FISH TALES: Zeb Hogan grapples a giant carp in Cambodia's Tonle Sap River.

For the October 2005 feature story, "What It Takes '05: Hard Science," we took a look at ten courageous field scientists who risk everything to turn in their data. Imagine facing Monday morning deep inside a melting glacier, chasing polar bears, parachuting into a jungle that no one's explored, or wrangling a grizzly bear-size catfish, like biologist Zeb Hogan, featured here. Hogan is also a National Geographic Emerging Explorer.

Online Exclusive: Hear Zeb Hogan on National Geographic's World Talk describe the Mekong's giant catfish and what it takes to wrangle and release them.

[To play MP3 files, you'll need a free media-player software, such as Windows Media Player, RealPlayer,, or iTunes. For help with audio files, click here >>]

As head of Cambodia's Mekong Fish Conservation Project, Zeb Hogan has saved dozens of giant freshwater fish from local nets. This year the World Wildlife Fund and the National Geographic Society sent him on a two-year, six-continent mission to identify and study any freshwater variety over six feet long or 200 pounds.

''I don't have a party lifestyle in Phnom Penh, where I live, so when my cell phone rings at 2 a.m., I know it's a fisherman. They all have my number. On the market, they get 50 cents a kilo for a giant catfish. I pay a dollar. My Khmer isn't good, but I can understand someone yelling, 'Big fish, big fish! Come now!'

"The river is about half an hour away, and I'm usually riding in the rain, in the dark, on the back of a motorcycle. We pull up to some shantytown fish market where everyone's shouting and haggling and a boat appears to take us to the nets.

"The first year, we had one that weighed 595 pounds. Bugs were swarming around my headlamp, and someone pulled on a rope and this huge fish came up out of the murk. To lift it up and weigh it, we wrapped it in a plastic tarp and put five guys on each side. The most important job is holding the tail. That's where the fish gets its leverage. If you let go of the tail, that's it.

"When we released the fish, it nearly sank us. Now we use bigger boats, but that night it was a 12-foot boat dragging a ten-foot fish. We inched along, killed the engine, and I jumped in. Giant catfish grow weak after fighting a net, and I have to grab on to them to make sure they're strong enough to swim before we release them. I hold on to the mouth, on to one of their big lips. I get its head down, so water can move through its gills. After a while, a catfish regains its strength and dives deep, where it's safe, and where I can't go."
--Biologist Zeb Hogan

Volunteer Research Vacations: Play field researcher on one of these ten volunteer scientific expeditions around the globe >>

Read about the nine other amazing field researchers in the October 2005 issue of Adventure.

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