This sturgeon carcass washed up on Virginia Beach's 20th Street Sunday. Photo: Matt Lillis

Endangered “Dinosaur Fish” Washes up in Virginia Beach

Something more than seaweed has been washing up in Virginia Beach. This endangered Atlantic sturgeon, a prehistoric fish that can grow up to 14 feet long, caused a stir when it was found on the beach Sunday.

Matt Lillis snapped a photo of the dinosaur-like creature at 20th Street, and it was later shared on the Virginia Wildlife Facebook page. Lillis hadn’t seen anything like it before, and wondered what it was.

Dr. Matthew Balazik knew exactly what it was. “Likely about a 1.6 meter fork length male,” he tells Bay Bulletin. Dr. Balazik leads the Virginia Sturgeon Restoration Team at the VCU Rice Rivers Center. He got several reports of this same sturgeon washed up on the beach.

While it was a marvel to those who stumbled upon it, Dr. Balazik says it’s typical to find dead sturgeon this time of year, and he’s had reports of multiple carcasses in the past few days.

“Unfortunately this is common as we find dozens each year and there are likely a bunch that are never reported,” says Dr. Balazik. He says the cause of death is probably boat strikes. That’s because a large number of fall spawning sturgeon are leaving the rivers to return to the ocean. “The more fish you have moving, the more likely some are going to get chopped up…The fish are likely getting pulled into the propellors.”

Dr. Balazik notes that there has been a high number of reports in the Ocean View area of Norfolk, but the reason isn’t clear. “It might be that the area has a lot of people around so the carcasses get seen and reported, or a high proportion of fish killed in this area—hard to tell for sure with that data we have.”

The Rice Rivers Center Sturgeon Team asks anyone who comes across a sturgeon carcass to report it.

“Like every year when the water temps get to about 18C in the lower James, most of the fall adult sturgeon have left. Unfortunately this is when a lot of adults are killed by ship propellers. This year seems to be no different as a lot of you are reporting dead sturgeon and providing great pictures and location information. It’s not a pleasant thing to do but we really appreciate all your efforts,” the team writes in a post.

-Meg Walburn Viviano