Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Way Down Upon the Suwanee the Sturgeon Are Jumping Dangerously

No sooner did the Albany Times-Union mention that leaping sturgeon can be dangerous and that a woman in Florida was recently injured by one then the Times shows up with a story about leaping sturgeon injuring people in Florida, on the Suwanee River in particular, here.

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.



Blogger Sam said...

I can't resist this one, Tom. The sturgeon do NOT like those personal watercraft (PWC) with names like Ski-Doo and Jet-Ski. They make a horrendous sound under the water. I don't blame them for wanting to take out the PWC to shut them up.

Sorry to offend anybody, but I don't like them either.

Local biologists and naturalists down here studied the family habits of bay dolphin, which are quite numerous here (as are the PWC). The social structure is a matriarchy in which the mother dolphin has to train the baby to sound (dive deep) when the PWC and outboard motorboats get close. The mother and sisters all have to herd the babies so they don't get run over.

Yep, nearly half the bay dolphins can be identified by prop scars and mangled flippers due to recreational boats.

Incredibly, what usually happens is that when jumping and herding dolphins - or in this case sturgeon - are seen the PWC riders usually circle and chase the pod for a better view. That is the absolute worst thing you can do! Most PWC riders are idiots for this very reason. It's a good thing that female bay dolphins will not jump when trying to protect their brood; can you imagine 200 pounds of pure muscle and razor sharp teeth?

So I say "good on the sturgeon, more power to ya!"

12:47 PM  

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