Sturgeon sightings beg for explanation |Swan||07/11/05 at 10:41:22|Swan|xx|0||[quote][b]Sturgeon sightings beg for explanation [/b]

[i]Sunday, July 10, 2005

My July 1 column about the reported sighting of a sturgeon in Skaneateles Lake had a domino effect, as I knew it would.

After fishing guide Dick Withey went public about his encounter with a giant fish with a "funky-looking" head, several readers stepped forward to declare that they, too, had seen a sturgeon in the lake, from three years to three weeks ago. The spotters' estimates of the critter's size varied from 3 to more than 6 feet, a plausible range for a species with a reported maximum length of 7 feet, 11 inches.

If accurate, the sightings are remarkable because the scientific literature contains no mention of lake sturgeon in the coldest and purest of the Finger Lakes.
It's at least possible that Skaneateles Lake has sheltered a small population of sturgeon for eons, regardless of the written record. Cornell University researcher Dr. Randy Jackson said sturgeon were known to frequent Cayuga Lake, decades ago, and have a rumored but unconfirmed history in Owasco Lake, too.

However, Jackson said it is likely that any sturgeon now living in Skaneateles got there with the hand of a fisherman who caught them in Oneida Lake or the Oswego River, where they are well-established; then gave them a lift to their new home.

Although such assistance is illegal on two levels - lake sturgeon are an endangered species and must be set free after an accidental capture, and New Yorkers may not introduce fish from lake or stream to another without a stocking permit - it is hardly unheard of. Dozens of lakes in the Adirondacks, for example, have had their ecosystems flipped upside-down by practitioners of bait-bucket biology.

Fortunately, a few bottom-feeding sturgeon are unlikely to have a significant impact on a body of water as substantial as Skaneateles Lake.

The real question is, what other sightings of mysterious beasts might be in the offing, now that lakeshore residents are on the alert?

I have an interest in cryptozoology, which, loosely translated, is the study of animals whose existence is unproven. Cryptozoologists inquire into reports of Bigfoot, rumors of mountain lions returning to former haunts or evidence of living animals previously thought extinct, such as the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

It so happens that river otters, turned loose in the Bear Swamp State Forest a few years ago, have migrated down Bear Swamp Creek and are now making themselves at home in Skaneateles Lake. Syracuse resident Mike Brilbeck pointed one out to me during a recent fishing excursion on the lake. On that calm evening, with hardly ripple on the surface, there was no mistaking the sleek furbearer, even at a distance of more than 100 yards.[/quote]