(Wired) Sailor lore once told of a whale so enormous that captains would mistake it for an island, anchoring their ships to the beast and ordering men ashore. When the sailors built a fire on this “island whale,” though, the fiend would heave up and dive, dragging the crew to their deaths and perhaps into starring roles in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. And on the way down they likely thought, I knew I saw an eyeball back there. I should have said something. But also, Well isn’t this just a doozy. Something so big, yet we didn’t realize it was right under our feet.

Scientists were probably thinking the same thing when in 1990 they first described Southeast Asia’s giant freshwater stingray, which can grow to more than 16 feet long and 1,300 pounds. And while it packs a 15-inch, poisonous, serrated stinger, it’s actually a gentle, inquisitive creature, an endangered titan that researchers are scrambling to understand before humans drive it to extinction.

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