The Atlantic Sturgeon, Acipenser oxyrhynchus, is a prehistoric fish that has been on the earth for over 120 million years. They are not like most other bony fish. Instead of scales, they have five rows of hard bony plates, called scutes, along the outside of their bodies. These interesting creatures have a lifespan of up to 60 years. In that time, they can grow to upwards of 15 feet long and 800 pounds!
These giants were once very common in the Chesapeake Bay. They were thought to have gone extinct in most of the Bay and its rivers due to pollution, overfishing, and harvesting of their valuable eggs. In 1996, DNR released 3000, hatchery raised, coded-wire tagged one-year-old sturgeon into the Nanticoke in Vienna to try to kick-start their population. None of them returned to the river to spawn.
In 2010, reports began coming in from local fishermen of jumping sturgeon in the Nanticoke. In 2013, one actually jumped right into a fisherman’s boat. Since 2014, DNR has caught 20 Atlantic Sturgeon in the Nanticoke and has tagged them with transponders to track their movements. With these responders, DNR has learned that the sturgeon enter the Chesapeake Bay in April and May, stay in the lower parts of the Nanticoke from June-August, then spend the next few weeks living completely in the Marshy Hope Creek. By mid-October, they move out of the river and are out of the Bay by December. These tagged sturgeon have been recorded as far north as New Jersey and as far south as Georgia. Because the Atlantic Sturgeon is threatened in the Bay, laws have been put in place, making it illegal to catch them. Hopefully, with the help of this protection, it will become more and more common to see these prehistoric giants swimming in the Nanticoke River.
The Striped Bass, Morone saxatilis, known by Marylanders as the rock fish, is Maryland’s state fish and can be found in the Nanticoke River. These fish travel upstream from the Chesapeake Bay into freshwater rivers including the Nanticoke to spawn. Most of their adult lives are spent in salt water. They can live over 35 years, reaching a length of 50 inches and a weight of 60 pounds. The rock fish is not endangered or threatened and is one of the more likely fish you will catch in the Nanticoke and The Chesapeake Bay.
The Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, is a large bird of prey found all over the United States wherever there are large bodies of water with good food supplies in them. These birds can be seen nesting in large trees along the Nanticoke River. The bald eagle makes the largest nest of any North American bird. They can be 2-4 feet deep and 4-5 feet wide, weighing up to a ton!
The Osprey, Pandion haliaetus, is a large bird of prey that can be found on every continent except for Antarctica. They live near any body of water with an adequate food supply. It is very common to see these birds along the Nanticoke River. The Osprey is one of only two types of birds of prey whose outer toes are reversible. This allows them to hold their prey with two toes in front and two behind.
The beaver, Castor Canadensis, is the largest rodent in North America. It is very influential in the shaping of rivers including the Nanticoke. Beavers make dams which slow the flow of rivers, helping to decrease erosion of the river banks. They also help to create a stable supply of water for wildlife who depend upon the river.