Friday, September 18, 2009

A Sturgeon is Born!

For those of us who think full-time about nature and the environment, it seems every story is worse than the one before. The Arctic is melting, species vanishing, forests declining, and so on…

So I was thrilled this week by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s front page story on the Atlantic sturgeon, an extraordinary and extraordinarily ancient animal—cruising our waters since the Age of Dinosaurs—that was once a commercially important fish.

As reported here, a biologist doing research in the Delaware River near Wilmington pulled in a net overflowing with piles of the pedestrian perch. Then he spotted a standout: a baby Atlantic sturgeon, hatched just this year.

Only seven inches long, Sandy Bauers writes “it was nevertheless a momentous discovery—long-awaited proof that the species was spawning in the Delaware.”

As the story recounts, sturgeon “was once the basis of a thriving caviar industry on the Delaware, the nation's largest. In the late 1800s, the river swarmed with boats and nets during spawning season, the shores were lined with cleaning stations. Then, largely because of overfishing and pollution, the population of Atlantic sturgeon plummeted to near-extinction in the early 1900s.”

The animal craves clean water, and has the kind of biology that typically dooms critters: long-lived animals themselves—and big, they get to be about 14 feet long—they become sexually mature only after almost two decades, a horribly long period of time.

As WHYY reported just this morning, this is the first record of a spawning sturgeon in the Delaware in 50 years.

Hope springs eternal.

No comments: