Monthly Archives: April 2019

Forest Feature: Sturgeon

Close up image of Herman the Sturgeon's face, in profile

Imagine you’re swimming in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge, and you open your eyes and see a 8 ft shadow lurking in the depths.

No, it’s not a shark, it’s a sturgeon – the Acipenser transmontanus!

This ancient family Acipenseridae dates its lineage back to the Triassic period (245-805 million year ago). Despite human interference and over-fishing, it still clings on to existence across the world’s many rivers.

Some examples of the species look absolutely wild… just look at this Chinese paddlefish!

Illustration of a long, slender fish with gray scaled and a long, sword-like face.
Psephurus gladius, also known as the Chinese paddlefish, Chinese swordfish, or elephant fish, is critically endangered in its native China. It is sometimes called the “Giant Panda of the Rivers,” not because of any physical resemblance to a giant panda, but because of its rarity and protected status.
Image from the Muséum d’histoire Naturelle – Nouvelles Archives du Muséum d’histoire Naturelle (public domain).

In the Pacific Northwest, we have two species of sturgeon – the White Sturgeon and Green Sturgeon.

If you visit the Bonneville Dam fish hatchery, located in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, you can meet Herman the Sturgeon, an 11 ft 500 lbs fish who, at 79 years old, is only middle-aged for a sturgeon but also represents, possibly, the closest living genetic relative to ancient dinosaurs.

Close up image of Herman the Sturgeon's face, in profile.
Herman the Sturgeon does a “swim-by” for visitors to the Sturgeon Viewing and Interprestive Center viewing pond, July 21, 2012.
Photo by Sheila Sund (used with permission via Creative Commons 2.0 general attribution license – CC BY 2.0. All other rights reserved).

Herman and some of his less-famous sturgeon buddies can be viewed, up close and personal, in a viewing pond at the Sturgeon Viewing and Interpretive Center, which includes a viewing window for looking beneath the surface of the two-acre pond that is home to Herman, a number of smaller sturgeon, and some trout.

Herman the Sturgeon, viewed through an underwater viewing window April 15, 2018. He's a bottom-dwelling fish.
Sturgeons are a family of prehistoric bottom-feeder cartilaginous fish dating back to the Mesozoic and known for their eggs, which are valued in many world cuisines as caviar. White Sturgeons are native to the Pacific Northwest of North America, with significant populations in the Columbia River, Lake Shasta, and in Montana. 
Photo by Wayne Hsieh (used with permission via Creative Commons 2.0 general attribution license – CC BY 2.0. All other rights reserved).

What other wild creatures inhabit Pacific Northwest forests?

If you’d like to visit and find out, follow our Forest Features every month, or visit a National Forest in Washington or Oregon.

Go. Play. It’s all yours!


Source information: Forest Features highlight a new Pacific Northwest species (or sometimes, a family, order, kingdom, or genus) each month as part of the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s regional youth engagement strategy.

If you’d like fact sheets, activities, or links to other educational resources about this topic – and for information about other ways the Forest Service can help incorporate environmental education and forest science in your Pacific Northwest classroom – email YourNorthwestForests@fs.fed.us.