Species Spotlight: Sturgeons

Sturgeons are among the oldest and largest bony fish in the world, but there’s always something new to learn about these “living fossils.”

Published January 15, 2019

Found along coastlines and in rivers and lakes Europe, Asia and North America, there are more than two dozen species of sturgeon, with some growing as long as 18 feet! Many sturgeon species have existed for over 100 million years, but several are considered endangered or critically endangered due to overfishing, loss of habitat and the caviar trade.

Pallid sturgeon

Here at the National Aquarium, you can find pallid sturgeons in our Surviving Through Adaptation exhibit, while Atlantic sturgeons are making a comeback just outside our four walls in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.

Pallid sturgeons are found in North America throughout the Mississippi and Missouri river basins. This species can live to be 100 years old and are identified by their grayish-white color, uneven tail fins and lack of teeth. Without teeth, pallid sturgeons use their tube-shaped mouths to suck up fish, insects and mollusks from the river floor.

Pallid sturgeons are listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The main threat facing this species is loss of habitat. Researchers are currently using radio transmitters to identify pallid sturgeon spawning areas in an attempt to improve the survival rate of this species and gain more insight into their behavior and migratory patterns.

While pallid sturgeons are found at the Aquarium, another sturgeon species was recently rediscovered close by! Historically, Atlantic sturgeons were seasonal visitors to the Chesapeake Bay’s tributaries, but hadn’t been seen in these habitats for some time.

There have recently been signs of recovery, though. Maryland biologists recently confirmed a sighting of Atlantic sturgeons in the Nanticoke River. This discovery leads scientists to believe Atlantic sturgeons are once again spawning in the Chesapeake Bay, and they are reviving research efforts using radio transmitters to confirm.

Another positive sign for the Atlantic sturgeon comes from nearby Virginia, where several Atlantic sturgeons were spotted in the James River, indicating a sign of population resurgence there, as well.

This promising news emphasizes the importance of Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts—and more work still needs to be done! By participating in local cleanups, planting native plants and supporting clean water policies, you can help protect these valuable habitats that sturgeons and so many other species rely on.

Learn more about our restoration efforts in the Chesapeake Bay and how you can get involved!

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