Prehistoric, endangered, and in the Charles River; an Atlantic Sturgeon pays a visit to the Boston Harbor. Found swimming close to the North End, this surprising spotting brings attention back to the river’s improving ecosystem and the importance of its maintenance just in time for World Water Day.
Tax accountant Rick Bellitti was taking a walk in the North End this February when he spotted a rare big fish swimming in the Charles River. He took pictures with his phone and sent them to his father, who then forwarded them to the New England Aquarium, where the fish was identified as an Atlantic Sturgeon, a species in danger of extinction.
According to the Maryland DNR Fisheries Service, the Sturgeon has been around since the Cretaceous period, more than 120 million years ago. It is characterized by its size (between 4 and 6 feet), its arched back with a single row of bony plates, down sloped head and cartilaginous skin.
The Sturgeon was once abundant in the Boston Harbor. According to watershed scientist for the Charles River Watershed Association, Julie Wood, this species used to be “all over the place, it was a huge food source during Colonial times.” However, when the Industrial revolution came around, the Charles contamination and the massive dam construction scared the Sturgeons away.
“The Sturgeon is like the Salmon; it is born in the river, goes out to the ocean to live its adult life, and then comes back to the river to die,” said Wood. “When all the dams were built in the Charles, it blocked the fish’s passage, it couldn’t return.”
Bellitti’s timing could not have been any better. The Sturgeon was declared an endangered species this year on January 31, only weeks before being seen in the Charles. Although its presence in the river does not guarantee the existence of any more species in the area, it still speaks to the Charles’ improvement and healthier ecosystem.
“It is good news,” said Wood. “We can’t say there are lots more, but it is nice to hear good environmental news for a change.”
The CRWA is still working on making the Charles come back to life by improving its water passage for the inhabitant fish. By exposing the consequences of the dams (some of which are not even useful anymore), they promote advocacy aiming at their removal.
“We alone cannot do this,” said Wood. “But if a community comes together and protests a dam, there will be results.”
Click here to read our series about this year’s World Water Day.