Wild animals, especially those living underwater, can be hard to find and track. Biologists compile and use public sighting information to learn more about different animal species.
Atlantic sturgeon are found along the Canadian and U.S. Atlantic Coast as far south as Florida. Understanding where they go, how they get there and where they spawn (lay their eggs) is important for resource managers. It helps them to put protections in place for this endangered species.
With their built-in “armor,” also known as scutes, sturgeon appear to be indestructible. They actually face a number of threats including:
- Unintended catch by fishermen
- Dams that block access to spawning areas
- Poor water quality
- Water withdrawals from rivers and
- Vessel strikes
NOAA Fisheries monitors a sturgeon hotline, (844) STURG-911, as a way to collect sightings information. Recent reports to the hotline have come from as far away as California and as far north as Maine! One of the most common reporting locations is New Jersey.
About a week ago, while walking along the shore in Cape May, New Jersey, a family discovered a sturgeon that had washed ashore. The fish, which was about 2.5 feet long, did not appear to be injured. The family found an odd yellow “streamer” with number 53869 attached to the animal. It turns out that yellow streamer was actually a scientific tag applied by a sturgeon researcher! Our partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed the tag was issued in North Carolina in 2019.
Thousands of miles away, we received another tip via the hotline that a sturgeon was spotted off Marina Bay Beach in Richmond, California. The animal had a large bite on its underside. Based on what we know about the abundance of sturgeon in the San Francisco Bay area, this animal was likely a white sturgeon. Without photo evidence, it's tough to know for sure. Regardless, calls like these provide valuable data to NOAA researchers.
Closer to home, we’ve had more than a dozen reports so far this year. There were two from North Carolina, one from South Carolina, three from Georgia, and three from Florida.
You might wonder, how can scientists learn anything from a dead fish, but depending on the animal, we gain lots of useful information. We can determine if it’s been growing, we can determine where it might have hatched using genetics. We can also get a sense of where and when they are migrating (traveling between locations). For example, by re-sighting a sturgeon, like the one tagged in North Carolina but found in New Jersey, we are able to compare size. We can tell how much the animal has grown between when it was first caught and when it washed up dead.
Your information helps! If you find a stranded, injured, or dead sturgeon, please take a photo, if you can do so safely. In the Southeast you can report it to (844) STURG-911/(844) 788-7491, or send us an email at NOAA.Sturg911@noaa.gov. In the Northeast please call the NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office at (978) 281-9328. Provide additional information such as:
- Where you saw the animal (latitude/longitude)
- Approximately how big it was
- Any weird marks (like a tag) or wounds you notice
- When you saw it
These are also very helpful pieces of information!