Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Atlantic Sturgeon

There’s a creature living in the Atlantic ocean that looks like something from the age of dinosaurs.  It can reach lengths of fifteen feet and weigh up to eight hundred pounds.  It’s the Atlantic sturgeon.

In times past, the fish was in great abundance in the Atlantic.  Fishermen were not interested in the massive fish until the meat became popular as an export.  In more recent times, it has been caught primarily for the production of caviar.  The product became so popular that the fish is now endangered.

As of February 2012, this amazing fish was officially classified an endangered species.  The Atlantic sturgeon’s official range extends from New Brunswick, Canada to the eastern coast of Florida.  It’s considered threatened along its entire range, although it is completely absent from some of the areas that it previously populated.  In Virginia, in the Chesapeake watershed, the James river is one of the last confirmed holdouts for the fish and conversation efforts are underway.

Sturgeon are among the oldest living species of fish and have retained many primitive characteristics.  Rather than having true scales, the Atlantic sturgeon has five rows of bony plates called scutes causing it to have an “armored” appearance.  Coloring of the sturgeon ranges from blue-black to olive green with a white underside.

The sturgeon’s bony plates are not the only strange aspect of their appearance.  Their eyes are tiny and there are barbels on their face that help them locate prey in murky waters.  Their bizarre look makes it easy to imagine how early sailors must have responded when spotting these ‘sea monsters’ and it’s certainly feasible that they are responsible for some accounts of weird aquatic creatures.

sturgeon sc
In March 2012, a large carcass washed up on Folly Beach in South Carolina.  Area residents were puzzled by the massive carcass and there was much talk of the discovery of a ‘sea monster’.  The animal was soon identified by a local veterinarian from the South Carolina Aquarium as an Atlantic sturgeon.

Sturgeon have survived for over 100 million years.  An individual fish can live to be over 60 years of age.  Let’s hope this modern monster can survive the ravages of man.

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