A rare and strange fish from a species that dates back to the time of the dinosaurs has washed up on the U.S. East Coast.
The dead Atlantic sturgeon was spotted by naturalist and photographer Allen Sklar on the shore of Assateague Island, a 37-mile-long strip of land along the coasts of Maryland and Virginia. He took several images of the large fish, which measured about 3 feet in length.
“I drive the 12 miles of beach about 100 days a year and so see a lot of stuff others don’t,” Sklar, who specializes in Assateague’s history, wildlife and ecology, told Newsweek. “This was the second sturgeon I have seen [dead] in 27 years of driving on the island.”
The Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus) is a large fish found in rivers and coastal waters from Canada to Florida. It can reach lengths of 14 feet and a weight of more than 800 pounds, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
These fish, which generally live up to about 60 years, have a distinctive appearance, with five rows of protective bony plates, called scutes, that run along their body; long snouts; and shark-like tails.
Atlantic sturgeon were once far more abundant than they are today. But overfishing during the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as habitat loss, led to a drastic decline in their numbers. These fish were prized for their eggs, which are considered a source of high-quality caviar.
Four of the five distinct Atlantic sturgeon populations in the United States are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act—the remaining group is classified as threatened. Because of the act’s protections, it is illegal to catch these fish or harvest their eggs in the U.S.
One of the five Atlantic sturgeon populations is centered in Chesapeake Bay, which lies to the west of Assateague Island, on the other side of the Delmarva Peninsula. The sturgeon were once found throughout the bay and its freshwater rivers, but they are now very rare in the region.
Atlantic sturgeons are prehistoric fish that have been dated back to more than 120 million years ago, when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth. (SOURCE)