Thursday, 8 August 2013

'Monster fish' in Lake Washington? It's not the first time

LAKE WASHINGTON - Biologists with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife were out on Lake Washington on Tueday taking DNA and other samples from a seven-foot sturgeon found over the weekend by a family out water skiing in the northern section of the lake.

Keith Magnuson said his son first spotted as they were speeding along in their boat on Saturday morning. "That's a shark!" was the assessment at first glance. They then went back to see what it was.

Floating upside down is a large white fish without scales. Eight feet was their initial guess. They were close, but figured it wasn't a shark. It was a sturgeon.

But it probably wasn't the first time. Magnuson remembers a case in 1987. 

"For years there had been monster sightings, like Loch Ness-type stuff," he said, pointing from the Seattle shore over toward Kenmore. "And finally a dead sturgeon came to the top and that was surmised to be the monster." 

Brad James, a biologist with Fish and Wildlife in Vancouver, Wash. and the agency's expert on the pre-historic looking fish, says sturgeon primarily spawn in the Columbia, Sacramento and Fraser rivers, but there is also a population that lives in Puget Sound. He said it's likely the fish swam into the lake through the Ballard Locks, and could have been feeding in the lake for years, only discovered once it died and floated to the surface.

James said the biologists from the department's field office in Mill Creek will also check the fish for tags, that along with DNA will help identify where it came from.

The case is just another one for the unusual fish files of Washington state. In 2011, the decomposing head of a large tropical dwelling hammerhead shark was found on a beach in West Seattle. In 2002, a 100 pound, five foot long rag fish was found dead on a beach in Olympia. That fish normally lives in depths of up to 1,400 feet off the coast. In 2007, another seven foot sturgeon was found in Olympia's black lake.

Biologists also plan to date the fish, by counting growth patterns not unlike tree rings. James said some sturgeon can grow faster than others so the size does not dictate the age of the fish.

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