Monday, July 9, 2007

They're here..........

It is well into the season, a season where I can happily sing, "Like a sturgeon, leaping for the very first time." Florida is well into it's annual "sturgeon strike" season, what that state's law enforcement calls boater vs largest freshwater fish collisions on the Suwannee River.

For some, like Jim Tomey, sitting on the riverbank and watching the fish, who can reach 200 lbs, leaping is a summer ritual. With three people injured so far this year, the fish are back to scoring points with boaters on the river. The sturgeon seem to gather in six short, narrow stretches of the river and wildlife officials have posted signs warning boaters to slow down for safety reasons.

Leah Daniel said there was only one other precaution to take: "Pray."

Hitting a flying sturgeon at 20-40 mph usually will knock you unconscious, and you have the distinct possibility of drowning if you are not wearing a life jacket. They have inflicted injuries including a broken pelvis, shattered leg on the most recent victim, a fractured arm, slashed throat and Brian Clemen's in 2002 suffered a broken sterum, ribs and a collapsed lung.

Dr Ken Sulak, a biologist with the United States Geological Survey, is guessing that they leap to let other fish know that they have found a good place to hang out. He also said, although they may look fearsome, they are as docile as lambs. I'll add them to my growing list of "docile" fish, although slamming into me at 30 mph while boating I find hard to categorize as docile.

Which brings me to the picture of Jerry Melton's 1 lb 4 oz piranha lying ever so docile on a plate in Mount Holly NC. I'm not sure if Melton had read the report by Prof Anne Magurran in which she stated how shy piranhas are but the fish he caught in the Catawba River last week wasn't shy about chomping on his knife blade.

"When I got it on the bank I didn't really know what it was, I hadn't seen anything like it before," Melton said. "Catching something like that is definately going to make me think twice about what's in that water."

State wildlife officials positively identified his fish as a piranha and believe it to be not only the first caught in the river but quite possibly, the region. Paul Barrington, an ichthyologist with the Fort Fisher Aquarium said that Melton's catch highlights the growing problem of people keeping exotics and then later dumping them into local waters. Piranhas have no known predators in those waters and it is unknown what they could do to the fish in the local ecosystem.

Melton's fish will remain docile, quietly waiting in his freezer until he can have it mounted and hanging ever so docile on his wall.

Speaking of not knowing just what is in that water........ "Leggy" isn't in his natural home anymore, instead, he is the new neighborhood attraction. Leggy was found in the pool Monday afternoon but it is believed that he moved there from a nearby pond or drainage ditch.

Leggy you see, got his name from the 9 legs he has and his mutation has some worried. Neighbors near Greenwich and Kellogg in Witchita Kansas have heard that the area Leggy was found in used to be a landfill. Dr Jeffery May, WSU Biologist has said that frogs like Leggy can be from a spontaneous mutation or they can occur from environmental causes. This frog isn't the first either, 35 states have reported cases of abnormal frogs since 1996.

"Hopefully someone will come out here and do some tests and make sure the water is safe and everything is ok," Cassy Kellogg said.

Director Kay Johnson, Wichita Environmental Services, had said that her office will look into the issue later this week. For now, Kellogg said that she will keep her eye out for more mutated frogs.

First it's large flying fish, then piranahas in the local fishing holes and now, multi-legged frogs. I think I will have to really watch where I put my foot next time I am in the river.

For a slide show of sturgeon leaping look here.

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