Sturgeon crash into 11 boats, injure 6 on Suwannee River in 2011

11:03 AM, Nov 3, 2011   |    comments
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Branford, Florida- The Suwannee River is one of Florida's few remaining untouched treasures. Every year thousands come to enjoy the area's natural beauty, wildlife and boating.

But just under the surface of the river's dark waters there's a hidden hazard.

Back in June, April Miller and her family from Plant City were cruising along a stretch of river near where the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers converge when April's mother says there was a sudden and unexpected impact.

"I heard a bang and glass was raining all over the place. I looked over and April was slumped over covered in blood."

April was rushed to Shands Hospital in Gainesville with a broken jaw and orbital fracture. Doctors say she'd been hit by a near four foot long sturgeon.

She spoke to us a week later, back in June, still bruised from her neck to her knees.

"It's almost like they're out of a science fiction horror story. They're bone... all bone... rivets of bone," said April.

"They come straight up, twist around and make a very loud smack on the water," says Dr. Ken Sulak a research fish biologist with USGS.

He believes the smack the fish make may be a form of communication. He's found the jumping is more frequent when water levels get low as the sturgeons converge on the deepest portions of the river.

"They're pooled up in those areas and there's a lot of jumping activities concentrated in those areas so the potential for collision is increased," says Dr. Sulak.

Warning signs are already in place at boat ramps up and down the river but he suggests warnings also be posted along the 8 or so known areas where the fish are most active. Fish are in the Swaunee and a number of other Panhandle rivers usually from April until about the end of October before returning to the Gulf of Mexico.

"It would be similar to having deer crossing signs on the highway to let people know where the greatest danger is."

Officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission suggests boaters slow down and keep passengers away from the boat's bow. Most importantly they say to enjoy the Suwannee, but be aware sturgeon are a potential danger.

Beau Zimmer, 10 News

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