How often do you get the chance to see a Federally endangered species up close, take pictures, touch it? I got that chance last week on one of those October days that defy the calendar and break warm and humid like midsummer.
I joined VCU researcher Matt Balazik and Chuck Frederickson and Jamie Brunkow, James River Association Riverkeepers past and present, on a sturgeon run on the James River near Presquile National Wildlife Refuge. When I stepped aboard near the Presquile ferry, there were already five on board, all males. Frederickson drove while Matt and Jamie worked up the fish, taking measurements and samples for DNA testing. If any had been females, they would have had electronic tags inserted to allow their location to be monitored.
Sturgeon are bony-plated bottom feeders that pre-date dinosuars. The Atlantic species was federally listed as endangered last year, but on the James they are recovering. Balazik and others are trying to find out how and why. If bald eagles have become the emblem of the James River’s new found fecundity, the sturgeon is the new kid on the block, and no less charismatic for living in the water rather than flying above it.