A threatened species, the Gulf sturgeon is an ancient fish that grows up to eight feet long and weighs up to 300 pounds! Once living with the dinosaurs, these aquatic creatures have scutes (large protective plates) on their backs like an alligator. Possessing no teeth, they swim along the bottom vacuuming up food consisting of crabs, grass shrimp, and marine worms. Sturgeons inhabit river systems in the Panhandle east to and including the Suwannee River. Boaters need to be on the look-out for them, especially during spring and summer, as they can leap up to nine feet into the air. Able to live more than 40 years, these fish do not produce eggs until approximately eight years of age. They live part-time in the salty Gulf of Mexico, then swim to freshwater rivers to lay eggs. Dams on some rivers have stopped the sturgeons being able to get where they want to go and dredging of rivers can take away their food supply.
Gulf sturgeon live in the Suwannee River as well as other rivers in Northwest Florida, including the Apalachicola, Choctawhatchee, Yellow, Blackwater, Escambia, Pearl and Pascagoula.
Three species of sturgeon can be found in Florida: Atlantic sturgeon (Acipsener oxyrinchus oxyrinchus), Gulf sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi) and shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum). All three species have a round body embedded with an armor of five rows of bony plates or scutes. They have no bony skeleton. They also have no teeth and the upper lobe of the tail is longer than the lower lobe similar to sharks. All three species are anadromous, meaning that they move from saltwater to freshwater to spawn. Florida sturgeon can live long lives, exceeding 25 years in some cases.
Atlantic sturgeon occur along the northeast Atlantic coast and Gulf sturgeon, a subspecies of Atlantic sturgeon, lives along the gulf coast. Shortnose sturgeon have been found in the St. John’s River, although recent research indicates that their overall occurrence is very rare.