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Jumping sturgeon breaks boater's leg

June 1, 2011 | 12:05 pm

A Gulf sturgeon in the Suwannee River. A Florida boater's leg was broken when a 60- to 75-pound sturgeon jumped from the water and crashed into her. The incident occurred just days after the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission issued a warning to boaters about being cautious in waters populated by the fish.

Tina Fletcher, 25, of Cross City, Fla., was a passenger Sunday aboard an airboat on Florida's Suwannee River when the accident happened, FWC spokeswoman Karen Parker told the Gainesville Sun.

"She was riding on a 16-foot-long Freedom Craft air prop airboat when the fish jumped and hit her leg," Parker said. Witnesses told FWC officers that the fish slid back into the water after the incident.

This is the fifth reported sturgeon encounter in Florida waters since April, and the most serious.

Biologists are unsure why sturgeon jump, though they are certain they are not malicious. Theories include that the fish jump to communicate or as a dominance display.

"I have seen these encounters referred to as 'attacks.'  However, these fish are in no way attacking when they jump," said Allen Martin, regional freshwater fisheries biologist. "They are simply doing what they have been doing for millions of years: jumping. They aren't targeting the boaters.

Gulf sturgeon are anadromous, migrating from saltwater to freshwater to spawn, and can grow to more than 8 feet long and exceed 200 pounds.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: A Gulf sturgeon in the Suwannee River. Credit: Noel Burkhead / U.S. Geological Survey