Jewish World Review August 21, 2002 / 13 Elul, 5762

David Grimes

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Consumer Reports

The latest evidence that Mother Nature is out to kill us | The latest evidence that Mother Nature is out to kill us comes from the Florida Panhandle, where fisherman and boaters are being attacked by flying sturgeon.

Imagine you are puttering along the scenic Suwannee River, humming the old Stephen Foster song in which he rhymes "ribber" with "ebber," when suddenly a 130-pound armored dinosaur leaps out of the water and smacks you in the chest. If you have ever wondered how you would react in a situation like this, be advised that the first words out of your mouth are not likely to be "Well, hello there, Mr. Sturgeon! How are you today?" They are more likely to be, "Call 911! Arggghhhh!"

I am making this prediction based upon what happened to Lacy Redd over the Memorial Day weekend. Redd, a 34-year-old elementary school principal, was boating on the Suwannee with her husband and three children when a 6-foot, 130-pound sturgeon leapt out of the water and struck her in the chest and chin. The woman was knocked unconscious and suffered three broken ribs, a collapsed lung and a concussion. The force of the impact bent the boat's steering wheel in half.

An isolated incident, you say? Hardly. Two other Florida boaters have been struck and injured by flying sturgeon so far this year and we're still more than two months away from Halloween. (Some free advice: If a sturgeon comes knocking at your door the night of Oct. 31, offer it a handful of crabs and marine worms rather than the usual Skittles and Twizzlers. A body slam by an angry 100-pound fish in a Harry Potter costume is no way to start the evening.)

The obvious question here, other than where you can get a good price on marine worms, is: Why do sturgeon hate us? While I am not a trained ichthyologist per se, I have some theories.

For starters, sturgeon are very old. One source said they date back 200 million years; another said 380 million years. For our purposes, I don't think a few million years one way or the other makes a great deal of difference. The point is that we have drivers in Sarasota half that age that clog up traffic, crash into things and just generally make it difficult for us to enjoy our Early Bird Specials in peace. Given that fact, it's rather amazing that sturgeon haven't been responsible for even more mayhem. (In their defense, I don't know of anyone who's had to reprove a sturgeon for forgetting to turn off its turn signal or honk at it to get it out of the passing lane.)

Secondly, sturgeon are on the endangered species list, which means that marine biologists are forever chasing after them to staple a tag to their fin or embed a radio transmitter in their neck (assuming sturgeon have necks) or stick a thermometer into a place no thermometer has any business going. So Florida's sturgeon are in a state of constant nervous agitation, which could account for their jumpiness. (Whether sturgeon have a habit of confusing elementary-school principals with thermometer-wielding marine biologists I cannot say. But at their age, it's a good bet their eyesight isn't what it used to be.)

Finally, sturgeon is the fish from which we get caviar. Being essentially good-natured, sturgeon would probably not mind sacrificing their unborn babies for the gastronomic amusement of the world's yuppie scum were it not for the fact that the egg-removal process has a certain health risk associated with it specifically known as death.

Any one of these theories could explain the recent erratic behavior of Florida's sturgeons. (Did I mention that their swim bladders are also used to clarify wine?) Still, the chances of getting whomped by a flying sturgeon are probably pretty slim, and there's no reason for you to stop boating or fishing on the Suwannee River, assuming you ever did these things in the first place.

But if a 6-foot, 150-pound prehistoric fish in a "Men in Black" costume comes knocking on my door Halloween night, I'm diving under the bed.

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JWR contributor David Grimes is a columnist for The Sarasota Herald Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2002, Sarasota Herald Tribune