SciSun: Balancing the Scales   Leave a comment

Fish, we would believe, are all more-or-less the same. Fins, gills, scales and tails would be enough for most anyone to guess, here we have a fish. Or perhaps for many of us, the only relationship we have with these aquatic avatars is through the dinner plate. But what if a fish didn’t have these identifying features; or lacked not all, but just one or two? Would a fish still be a fish, by any other name?

Please meet the White Sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus), otherwise known as the Pacific Sturgeon; Oregon Sturgeon; and California Sturgeon. Not surprisingly, this is a fish native to the Pacific Ocean off the coasts of California, Oregon, Canada and as far north as Alaska. While he does sport fins; gills; and a tail (actually no fish has more than one tail. That’s a feature reserved for sea monsters); what Sturgey does not have, are scales. It’s not that he swims in the nude – in place of scales, he’s covered in scutes, large, boney plates that more resemble a knights armour than the sleek and slippery scales favored by today’s modern fish.

Because the White Sturgeon – along with all other types of Sturgeon that can be found throughout the world – is a very, very old fish. Individual sturgeon can live up to 100 years, which is a long life by anyone’s standards; but as a group, the family of fish that holds all sturgeon goes back 175 million years. That’s before any humans, or even anything resembling a human; before most any mammal; before much of the land and water features we know were formed; all the way into the Jurassic Period – the time of ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, giant marine reptiles; of flying pterosaurs; of Brachiosaurus; Stegosaurus; and T-Rex. Also, we would believe, the time blockbuster movies can re-create, but the sturgeon doesn’t benefit from that because he doesn’t have a very good agent.

Back then, fish were very different from what we recognize today. Known as cartilaginous fish, or Chondrichthyes, these fish don’t have a skeleton made of bone like most other fish – and most animals in total (except for insects, of course. And mollusks. But that’s another story). Sharks, rays, skates (something like a combination of a shark and a ray) all have cartilaginous skeletons, cartilage being flexible tissue that in humans forms connections between our bones, but in cartilaginous animals serves as the ‘bones’; and, like Sturgey and every sturgeon, all cartilaginous creatures are also very, very old animals dating back millions of years. Sharks, that today so many think are dangerous man killers and should be destroyed, have been here far longer than any human has and obviously didn’t survive all this time by eating men which weren’t around to eat. So maybe it’s not the shark that’s the villain; but the human need to create an adversary.

While all this fish history is interesting (or maybe not so much), the white sturgeon is, thankfully, not a species that today is particularly in danger, threatened, or otherwise at risk (in the late 1800’s California sturgeon was overfished leading to restrictions and conservation, but since then the populations have recovered and can now support light commercial and recreational fishing). What may be most interesting about sturgeon is their size – recorded at 20 feet, with possible longer individuals that have never been documented – the White Sturgeon is the largest freshwater fish in North America, where they move between fresh and salt (ocean) water. And, of interest to some, while somewhat revolting to others, the fine dining indulgence of caviar is actually Sturgeon eggs. Almost exclusively from what’s considered higher-grade types of European sturgeon, this delicacy often considered the height of luxury and ostentation is actually eggs from a species so old, they’ve outlived millions of years of natures’ successes and failures. Except, of course, the appetites of man.


Michonne Says: This is another story about fishies and marmots don’t have much to say about fishies. Anything that lives in the water like that you have to watch out for. Who knows what’s hiding down there? Maybe there’s water wolves or water hawks or something. You never know.

Posted March 29, 2015 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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