Have you ever been slapped by a six-foot sturgeon jumping out of the water? As one Florida teen can attest, they pack quite the punch.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reported this week that a 14-year-old girl was knocked unconscious on a boat when she was struck by a sturgeon about four to six feet in length. The incident occurred on Sunday when Heavyn Nash was boating with her mother and grandfather on the Suwannee River, where sturgeon have been observed jumping due to the lower water level. Thankfully, the incident appeared to have no long-lasting consequences for the young boater and she was later released after treatment at a local hospital.
“This is the second sturgeon incident in less than two weeks,” said Major Andy Krause, commander of the FWC’s North Central Region in Lake City. “Boaters need to be aware that these fish are in the Suwannee and Santa Fe rivers. We want people to enjoy the recreational opportunities on the rivers, but we also want people to realize these fish do jump and can hurt you.”
On May 23, another sturgeon flung itself into a boat, breaking through the windshield and causing minor injuries to the operator. Anglers and boaters in waters where sturgeon live will also occasionally report injuries as a result of a jumping fish, but these “attacks” are hardly intentional. Biologists say that sturgeon jump naturally when water levels are low. Jumping helps the fish refill their swim bladders to maintain neutral buoyancy and to communicate with other sturgeon.
“These collisions aren’t attacks and the fish aren’t targeting boaters. They are simply doing what they have been doing for millions of years,” the FWC stated.
Sturgeon usually jump in areas where there are other sturgeon, which experts called “holding areas.” Sturgeon rivers, such as the Suwannee, have a number of holding areas where the fish are more likely to congregate—and hit an unsuspecting angler. Since there are about 10,000 to 14,000 sturgeon in the Suwannee, the FWC predicts that the chances of seeing a jumping sturgeon are pretty high.
“Please don’t think this can’t happen to you, especially if the water levels continue to drop. If you are boating on the rivers during the summer months, there’s a good chance you could encounter a sturgeon jumping out of the water,” Krause said.
Sturgeon can leap up to seven feet vertically from the water, which proportionally for size, would put them on par with the greatest human competitive high jumpers.
Image courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission