Hey, you really never know what you might find while walking along the beach around Lower New York Bay. Sometimes it could be a monster fish!
Even though the tide was falling and there was plenty of beach available for wandering along Sandy Hook Bay, dark clouds were forming and stormy weather was not far away. Before leaving, I saw something strange out of the corner of my eye lying on the beach.
At first I thought it was just a long log washed up onto the edge of the beach. As I got closer that log started to magically turn into a large fish. Even closer, the fish had surprisingly turned into a sturgeon.
This was the first sturgeon I had ever seen up close. What a strange and remarkable fish. It really did look prehistoric, something out of the movie Jurassic Park.
Sadly it was dead, washed up by the last high tide. There is no way of knowing for sure what caused its death. There was a deep hole near one of its fins, but it impossible to tell for sure what caused it. Otherwise, the fish appeared like a standard sturgeon you might see in a field guide.
It had a short, blunt snout, most likely a Shortnose Sturgeon. The fish was about three feet long and probably weighted about 15 pounds. There were bony plates, known as scutes, occurring along its body, one on each side. The body was a melancholic bluish in color on the back, and milky-white to dark yellow on the belly. The skin was tough and thick, like elephant hide.
Even though this fish species has been around for millions of years, the Shortnose sturgeon's life history is complex and still largely unknown. What seems to be known is that the Shortnose sturgeon is anadramous, migrating from salt water to spawn in freshwater. Around Lower New York Bay and the Hudson River, it spawns from April through May. Adult sturgeon migrate upriver from their overwintering areas near the mouth s of the estuary to freshwater spawning sites up river, a true estuarine fish that seldom travels beyond the estuary..
Shortnose sturgeon are bottom feeders and eat a variety of organisms. Using their barbels to locate food in mud and sand, and their extendable mouths to then vacuum it up, they eat worms, aquatic insect larvae, plants, snails, and shrimp.
Who knew that sturgeon really did live in Lower New York Bay. In the past, I heard stories that occasionally fishermen in boats would see a sturgeon or two, or three swimming, even a few a large Atlantic sturgeon basking at the water's surface . But, quite honestly, I never believed it. Here was the proof, though, that at least a few sturgeon do live in Lower New York Bay.
Since the Shortnose Sturgeon is officially listed by the National Marine Fisheries Service as endangered, and is fully protected by the Endangered Species Act of 1973. the US Fish & Wildlife Service was called in by the local park service to haul away the fish. It is unlawful to even posses this fish or its bones.
While Shortnose Sturgeon can live 30-40 years, for this poor creature, life was over. No doubt, Lower New York Bay is a tough and stressful place to live even for a prehistoric monster fish.
For more information, pictures and year-round sightings of wildlife in or near Sandy Hook Bay, please check out my blog entitled, Nature on the Edge of New York City at http://natureontheedgenyc.blogspot.com/