With its armor-like scales, the Atlantic Sturgeon looks like a swimming stegosaurus. That's perhaps because the animal is nearly identical to its ancestors that swam at the time of dinosaurs, according to 120 million-year-old fossil records.
This week, awestruck Maryland fisheries biologists announced the capture and release this of an endangered Atlantic Sturgeon in the relatively shallow inland waters of Marshyhope Creek near Federalsburg, Md.
Our Anadromous Restoration Project netted one of the largest Atlantic Sturgeon to date this week. 181 lbs 7 ft 6 in. pic.twitter.com/wIe76JHvLq— MD Fishing & Boating (@MDDNRFISH) August 17, 2017
The behemoth adult female laden with eggs tipped the scales at 181-pounds and measured seven and a half feet from nose to tip-of-tail.
Two burly men had to leap in the water to help heave the specimen into the biologists' boat, according to Chuck Stence, who is conducting a study of the exceedingly rare fish for Maryland's Department of Natural Resources.
It is by far the largest Atlantic sturgeon captured by Maryland biologists since they began trying to survey for the species in 2014. It is also by far the largest species of fish that swims into Maryland's fresh inland waters from the ocean.
Sturgeon are the fish that provide caviar. But thanks to over-fishing, dams, and other destruction of habitat, these fishy throwbacks to the dinosaur age are endangered on the U.S. east coast.
Sturgeon were once plentiful in the Chesapeake Bay region, but self-sustaining, reproducing populations of the fish have been considered "extirpated" since at least the 1970's.
The capture of the sturgeon in Marshyhope Creek is a hopeful sign. Stence says biologists suspect the fish are in the area for an unusual fall spawning effort. Most sturgeon spawn in spring, but the big female had eggs. Smaller males have been captured in the area that appeared to be ready to fertilize.
Stence says his team has not documented actual spawning and has never captured any juvenile fish so there is no proof that successful reproduction is actually occurring.
Maryland's DNR has captured 23 sturgeon since 2014. The next biggest was about 150lbs.
DNA samples have been taken and tracking devices have been attached to captured specimens. Males have been documented swimming in the Atlantic off the coast of Georgia before migrating back to the Chesapeake, Stence said.
Historically, Atlantic sturgeon as large as 800 lbs have been recorded. The fish can live as long as 80 years.