Jul
07
2007

It’s a bird, it’s a plane – no, it’s super sturgeon

Boat coming?: "I've got to wait just a little longer, then I'll jump in front of that on-coming boat here on the Suwannee River," says the crafty sturgeon under the water. (Photo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Boat coming?: "I've got to wait just a little longer, then I'll jump in front of that on-coming boat here on the Suwannee River," says the crafty sturgeon under the water. (Photo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Be careful this summer if you’re boating on Florida’s Suwannee River. The sturgeon there are out to get the boaters.

In a growing trend in recent years, the river’s huge sturgeon are leaping out of the waters and colliding with occasional boaters, resulting in some significant injuries. Law enforcement there has dubbed the situation “sturgeon strikes.”

Three people have suffered significant injuries from the jumping fish already this summer. One of those incidents resulted in the shattering of a girl’s leg. Last summer there were eight reported “sturgeon strikes” resulting in significant injuries.

In most cases, here’s what happens. Someone is sitting on the front end of a boat traveling between 20 and 40 miles per hour on the river. The sturgeon happens to leap out of the water at the time that the boat is passing by and collides with that person causing major injuries. The impact and the size of the fish can be so major, some people have been knocked unconscious. Other reported injuries from sturgeon strikes include a broken pelvis, a broken arm and a slashed throat. In one case this summer, the jet skier was hit by a leaping sturgeon.

Sturgeons, a fish species that dates back to the dinosaur era, are nothing to be taken lightly about. They can grow up to eight feet long and weight up to 200 pounds.

So why do they jump? No one’s really sure. At first marine biologists thought the jumping activity might have been part of their mating ritual. But by this stage of the summer, sturgeon have completed their reproductive cycle and they’re still jumping. Also, they have no freshwater predators, outside of an occasional alligator, so they’re not jumping for escape purposes.

Are they communicating like breaching whales? Possibly. Some investigators say that the jump might be a way for a sturgeon to signal to other sturgeons that its found a good place to hang out. That is unless a boat is coming!

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