Giant Jumping Sturgeon Stir Up Mystery in Florida River

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
August 17, 2006

Florida vacationers may be aware of the potential dangers of sharks and alligators—but what about Gulf sturgeon?

The giant fish trace their roots back to the days of dinosaurs and can grow up to 8 feet (2.5 meters) long and weigh up to 200 pounds (91 kilograms).

They can also jump six feet (two meters) out of the water and crash into unsuspecting boaters.

This year, there have been at least five such collisions on the Suwannee River in northwestern Florida, some of them resulting in serious injuries.

About a week ago, 23-year-old Blake Nicholas Fessenden was injured after a four-foot-long (one-and-a-quarter-meter-long) sturgeon jumped out of the river and knocked him off his personal watercraft.

His girlfriend, who was riding another watercraft behind Fessenden, was able to get to her unconscious boyfriend and hold his head above water before passengers on another vessel arrived to pull him from the river.

The same day, another couple was driving a boat on the river when a sturgeon jumped up and smashed into the boat's windshield.

Wildlife officials are quick to point out that the collisions are purely accidental.

"These are random collisions … there is no parallel to an attack," said Jerry Krummrich, a freshwater fishery biologist with the Florida Wildlife Commission in Lake City.

The experts say the collisions are probably the result of an increase in boaters—and possibly a larger sturgeon population—on the Suwannee River.

"There's a lot of boat traffic on the Suwannee in the summer, which is when you'll find the sturgeon in the river," said Alan Huff, a research administrator with the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida.

"More boats and more fish lead to more collisions."

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