Shelly the sturgeon’s success story

Seneca Park Zoo has been a long-time participant in the lake sturgeon reintroduction project into the Genesee River. Every year, along with USGS and DEC biologists, Zoo staff assist with the mark and recapture of sturgeon released into the Genesee River. Sturgeon are recovered from the river, weighed, measured, and identified using microchips and scute markings before being returned to the water.

On October 7, 2016, a 1.5 year-old sturgeon weighing only 96 grams was found unable to eat or swim by the team. This particular sturgeon was released in October 2015 as a 4-inch nursery-reared fish along with 1,000 other fingerling sturgeon. The sturgeon was brought to Seneca Park Zoo for a little TLC in the hopes that it would be returned to the river when stronger.

Unable to swim, it was placed inside a Genesee River mussel shell to maintain correct posture. Aptly named Shelly, she was tube-fed and then handfed for several weeks by Zoo staff.

As Shelly gained strength, her ability to swim returned slowly. Soon, she was gobbling down earthworms on her own and no longer had a need to stay inside her shell. Our exhibit sturgeon aquarium became the perfect home to wait out the cold because we couldn’t release Shelly during the winter months. She would join our three sturgeon also hatched in October 2015.

Over the winter, Shelly has continued to improve and grow. Weighing in at 236 grams, she has surpassed the weights of our other exhibited sturgeon.

This fall, all four of our exhibited sturgeon will be returned to USGS and DEC for release into the Genesee River. They will join the other 1,000 hatchery-reared sturgeon that will also be released.

The lake sturgeon, a protected species, disappeared from the Genesee River due to human activities from pollution to overfishing. Now, humans have brought them back. Since 2003, 6,000 sturgeon hatchlings have been released into the river.

It has been an honor for Seneca Park Zoo to rescue Shelly the sturgeon in 2016 and return her to the Genesee to enjoy her 150-year life!

— Robin English, Veterinary Technician