Way Down Upon the Suwanee the Sturgeon Are Jumping Dangerously
Why do sturgeon leap out of the water?
“We say, ‘Pretty much because they can,’ ” said Karen Parker, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. She said the jumping seemed more frequent this year and last, maybe because sturgeon favor deeper water and are feeling cramped with the river unusually low.
Ken Sulak, a biologist with the United States Geological Survey, has ruled out several theories. Since sturgeon do not jump in spawning season, Dr. Sulak said, the jumping must not be for reproductive reasons. And since they have no freshwater predators but occasional alligators, it is probably not an escape response.
Might they jump for joy?
Doubtful, Dr. Sulak said.
His guess is that sturgeon jump to let other sturgeon know they have found a good spot to hang out. They seem to gather mainly within six short, narrow stretches of the Suwannee where there are deep holes, so they do not have to waste energy fighting the current. They fast and relax all summer, basically “just going to the spa for several months,” Dr. Sulak said.
They can use the rest. The federal government has listed gulf sturgeon as threatened since 1991, and for nearly a quarter-century Florida has outlawed catching them. Ms. Parker said there were now 3,000 to 5,000 of them in the Suwannee; Dr. Sulak puts the number closer to 7,000.
Gulf sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi) are a subspecies of the Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus). The other sturgeon we get around here are the short-nosed sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum). The shortnose and Gulf are protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
And as National Geographic reported, people have been getting hurt by leaping sturgeon in the south for years.