The River Monsters host answers the same 10 questions we always ask everyone!
The new season of River Monsters premieres this Sunday on Animal Planet. Is it true you go searching for a mutant fish in Chernobyl this time?
Well, the story was that there was a military guy over there who had his hand bitten off by something - that was the story that we heard. But all of these stories get scrambled in the telling, and our job is to unscramble them. We did see a picture of a fish with an extra jaw - it basically had two lower jaws. One of our jobs was to work out, is that a healed injury, a recovery, or another mutation? The reason we were allowed to fish there at all - because no one is really meant to fish there – is because there was a scientist who wanted to get his hands on a specimen, ideally a fish over 30 years old. In other words, one that arrived before the accident, and in layman’s terms, almost like reading the black box of an aircraft, finding out how something could survive the accident and still be alive now.
So is there a chance that this Russian with the missing hand just owed some money to gangsters?
Well, yes. Certainly in the Amazon, I think fish get blamed for other accidents. You know, “the piranhas got him,” or whatever, and there’s no real investigation. Sometimes, if the likes of us come along looking into what is actually a closed case, because we’ve heard maybe a fish is responsible, and that can potentially lead in interesting directions…
Over the years, which monster are you the most proud of catching?
Possibly the one from the first program we did, which was going to just be a one-off program. And that was the goonch catfish, which probably still holds the record for the ugliest fish I’ve ever caught - it’s got the tentacles hanging off every part of it. That was the fish that got me used to the idea that there are potential man-eaters in fresh waters - that’s a bit of a leap of imagination for a lot of people.
In your opinion, what’s the most dangerous fresh water fish out there?
If pushed on it, I would probably say the electric eel, the reason being, with a lot of dangerous fish, you look at them and see big teeth or whatever, and you just instinctively know, don’t go near the teeth. But with the electric eel, it actually looks quite innocuous – I mean, it’s elongated, so it does have that serpentine thing going on, and we’re all hardwired to avoid anything that looks a bit like a snake. But it hasn’t got teeth to speak of, and it’s not a true eel, it’s more related to catfish. True eels are very muscular, electric eels are a bit flabby - it gets out of the water and flops around a bit, it doesn’t really do much. But the size of the shock that it can deliver is proportional to the animal, so possibly 500 volts for a large one. You don’t even have to be in contact with it to get a shock. We heard quite a gruesome story about a guy who was fishing and he just shoved this fishing basket on top of an electric eel by mistake. The eel took exception to that and zapped it, and the guy’s then paralyzed, because it paralyzes all your skeletal muscles. The electric eel then wound itself around the guy’s chest, and then delivered further shocks.
Why would it do that?
Electric eels are able to detect small electrical currents in the water, just the kind of thing that’s given off from muscular activity from a small fish, so that’s how they detect their pray. They can also produce a small electrical field which they use for navigation, so it bounces off of rocks and maybe other fish, and what probably happened here, was that in the fish’s mind, it immobilized the attacker, but it’s still detecting some electrical activity - which is the activity coming from the heart - so what it’s doing is basically continuing to shock until it stops the heart. So, I think that fish is fairly creepy, and you wouldn’t know that just from looking at it, unless you’ve done your homework.
What was the last thing you had to apologize for?
In South America, demanding that our assistant producer remain silent while the camera was rolling. She had just punched herself in the face while attempting to fight off some night-flying wasps, which had already stung her three times! That was a few weeks ago.
What’s your favorite curse word?
I sometimes say, “Oops, I nearly said the fuck word.”
What’s the worst hangover you’ve ever had?
I remember a time when I went to what was supposed to be very respectable drinks with a friend of mine, actually a sort of drinks party given by his parents. And the next day my parents called a doctor, they were that worried about me. I just wanted to lie in, really.
What had you been drinking?
Everything! Just everything.
What was your first car?
My first car was a Ford Consul, I think as seen in some of the early James Bond films. A big green thing with fins, two leather sofas for seats, a stick shift on the steering column - it cost me £39! I would’ve been 17, and the insurance was more than the car.
Do you have a scar that tells a story?
I have this scar on my left thumb, sort of fishhook-shaped, that was self-inflicted, using a big machete. I was with some other fisherman, cutting up fish in a boat as we were travelling up a river in insane heat. There were clouds of insects in my face, so this was a momentary lapse of concentration. There was no medical help anywhere near, and my big worry was gangrene, so I ended up suturing it with superglue, which actually did a very good job. I had to splint it, and I found a rusty nail - which I sterilized in a fire - and then, with a Band-Aid, sort of strapped it up. Otherwise, when you bend it, it just breaks it again. So that was that.
Do you have a party trick?
I have such a non-existent social life nowadays - what’s a party? Removing a wine bottle with a piece of string, do you know that one? You push the cork into the bottle, you take a piece of string, tie a knot in it, and then you maneuver that into the neck of the bottle until the knot is past the cork. You then sort of jiggle it around so it’s jammed in there quite tightly, then when you pull, the knot will actually pull the cork out. The last time I did that was on New Year’s Eve, which sort of saved the day!
What’s the biggest thing you’ve ever put in your mouth?
My dentist’s arms, plus assorted tools, after I split a molar in Colombia last year. I think I was eating rice which had a stone in it or something. It was a bit painful at the time, and then over the next few days my gum swelled and it was moderately painful, I had this abscess thing going on. After a couple of weeks it got better, and when I eventually got home, it wasn’t really hurting. I went to my dentist and said, “I feel okay, maybe you can just have a look and tell me what it was.” And he said, “It actually split your tooth right through the roots - the reason it’s no longer hurting is because the nerve is dead and the infection is eating your face! It’s gotta come out.” I asked if it could wait till I got back from my next trip, and he said, “No, it needs to come out before your next trip, otherwise, your face will just be reduced to mush.”
What’s the one thing to remember in a fist fight?
The ineffectiveness of one’s nose and ears as weapons.
And what about a fish-fight?
Grab yourself a large fish with spikes on it and flail it around!
Who was the last person to see you naked?
Well, if I said it was a cameraman, I’d lose my job. I have a contract I’ve signed with Discovery, which is not very specific about that particular question, but it says, “Have you ever appeared nude, or semi-nude on camera?” Anyway, if I said it was a cameraman, I’d lose my job! Although I’ve been nearly nude a few times on the show…
Finish this sentence: If I ruled the world for a day, I would…
Immediately become corrupted and pass a law extending this to an indefinite period.