A sturgeon fish in the water
This sturgeon tagged with No. 16713 traveled 922 kilometers during last fall's spawning season. She was tagged in November 2017. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Balazik, Ph.D.)

Sturgeon traveled up to 1,350 kilometers in the James River last fall. Can you beat that?

VCU Rice Rivers Center holds second sturgeon challenge, encouraging the public to try to match the sturgeons’ spawning journeys via running, walking, cycling, swimming and rowing.

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Researchers with the VCU Rice Rivers Center tracked 73 male and nine female Atlantic sturgeon that left the ocean and returned to spawn in the James River last fall, traveling distances between 332 kilometers and at least 1,350 kilometers.

This semester, the Rice Center, a field station that is part of VCU Life Sciences and devoted to environmental research, teaching and public service, is posing a challenge: Can you travel as far as the sturgeon?

The center held its inaugural “sturgeon challenge” in the spring, encouraging the public to exercise — cycling, running, walking, swimming or rowing — a distance that matched distances related to the sturgeons’ spring spawning travels.

For the new challenge, the Rice Center has released data it collected by tracking tagged sturgeon during last fall’s spawning season.

For the 73 males, the shortest distance covered was 372 kilometers, the median was 686 kilometers and the sturgeon with tag number 28310 covered at least 1,350 kilometers before his tag ran out of power (he was tagged on Sept. 28, 2012).

Of the females, the shortest distance covered was 332 kilometers, the median was 472 and the female that traveled the farthest was tag number 16713, who covered 922 kilometers.

“She was tagged on Nov. 11, 2017,” said Matthew Balazik, Ph.D., research assistant professor at the Rice Rivers Center. “Her tag will keep going until November 2027 so we should see her a few more times.”

Balazik came up with the idea of the challenge while cycling the Virginia Capital Trail along the James River.

“It was that time of year when the spring fish were showing up, and I was like, ‘I wonder how many spring fish are up there right now, sitting and waiting?’” he said last spring. “And then I got to thinking: If that sturgeon went its full speed, could I beat it?”

For the fall challenge, Balazik has set a goal to cycle 1,350 kilometers by Dec. 31 along the James and York rivers, matching the distance of the sturgeon with tag number 28310.

He also is aiming to complete a single ride of 372 kilometers in one go, matching the male sturgeon that traveled the shortest distance.

“Might need some help from a team so I can draft some of the time,” he said.