Hakai Magazine –
One afternoon not long ago, I looked a fish in the eye and saw something beautiful. Her small pupils revealed a deepening maze of tawny, glistening yellows. Her scales at first looked gray and matte, but when I moved in closer—and I mean nose-to-scale close—her armored skin became a kaleidoscopic swirl of colors and shapes: purple diamonds, coral glints, blots of black like spilled ink. On each side of her half-moon gills was a starburst of metallic purples and pinks, like she was wearing the most awesome earrings in the world.
Then, with a quick flash of her tail, the sturgeon and her hallucinogenic-colored skin and eyes were gone, released back into the water. Every second she spent with me out of the estuary jeopardized her return to the water. Here in British Columbia’s Fraser River, she and thousands of other white sturgeon like her swim in and out of the Pacific Ocean. It’s where biologist Erin Stoddard, a stocky 53-year-old fisheries biologist, studied this mysterious fish for 15 years.
Most would not call the sturgeon beautiful. It certainly doesn’t have the aesthetic appeal of a frolicking dolphin or the cuddliness of a big-eyed seal. Instead, it has the plated skin of an alligator, and the upright back tail and white belly of a shark.