The Boater Versus the Beast

At the University of Florida, in nearby Gainesville, biologist Frank Chapman spends his life studying sturgeon.

"These are very docile fish," said Chapman, as he held up a four foot long fish with a very ugly face. "This fish is not attacking anybody. People are just running into them."

The Gulf sturgeon is one of the oldest fish species on the planet. It swam in the oceans when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

Chapman shows us the very odd-looking mouth that works like a vacuum. "It's a patrusable mouth, they don't have any teeth. Look. They just suck in and they suck worms, clams, shrimps."

Chapman explains that one reason people are being hurt so severely is that these ancient fish have their bones on the outside, there are no scales. "Knock, knock," he taps on the fish. It sounds like a steel plate, it gives the sturgeon protection like a medieval suit of armor.

"That's one of the reasons he's been around for 150 million years," he said. "These guys were swimming with the dinosaurs. Just keep that in mind, dinosaurs are extinct. These guys are still swimming."

'They Jump Because They Can'

But that doesn't explain why they're jumping.

"We really don't know [why]," explained Chapman. "There's a lot of speculation why they jump. None of the theories that are out there, really make any sense whatsoever."

Parker is also baffled.

"We have no idea. Everybody's got their own personal theory," Parker said. "I think they jump because they can. I've heard that they jump because they're clearing parasites out of their gills. I've heard it's some kind of weird reproductive dance. I've heard they're communicating with one another. There's all kinds of theories out there, but nobody knows for sure."

What we do know is that the Suwannee River has become awfully crowded.

After having the river to themselves for millions of years, the sturgeon are quite literally colliding with humans who want it, too. It is hard to see how boater and beast can share these waters.

"It's totally out of the realm of reality," said Nick Touchton. "You don't think about it. You just think about this nice peaceful run down the Suwannee River that we've all sung about for so many years. We'll never go back."

Click here to read Jeffrey Kofman's blog about the exotic and challenging shoot on the Suwannee River.

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