June 4, 2011 | Tag(s): endangered species, fish, Mississippi, paddlefish
By: Noel, Sea Otter Trainer

If you’ve stopped by the Mississippi Gallery at the Audubon Aquarium of the America’s recently you may have noticed some unique new residents. Pictured to the left, these cute looking creatures seem out of this world! But believe it or not these fish, called paddlefish, are actually living in our back yard!

Paddlefish are a very primitive species and can easily be identified by their long “spatula-like” nose. It was hypothesized that the paddlefish used its long nose to shovel out vegetation to eat. In reality, their long nose houses dozens of receptors that detect weak electrical fields. This may be how they are able to find zooplankton (really small animals), like brine shrimp (sea monkeys). However scientists have studied paddlefish with damaged or missing noses and they are still able to hunt and eat normally. A concrete answer for their unique nose remains a mystery.

Our paddlefish are small because they are young but full grown these fish will easily reach over 60lbs and 5ft long! Our little guys have a long way to go- but that’s ok, they have a VERY long lifespan- often living over 40 years!

Paddlefish were once very abundant throughout the North American river systems, including portions of the Great Lakes including Lake Erie. However, in the last 30 years paddlefish have faced serious setbacks, largely due to river modification and overfishing. And in 2000 Canada listed the paddlefish as being extirpated in Canada. Today they are isolated to the Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, Yellowstone, Wisconsin, Des Moines, and Arkansas Rivers.

Paddlefish are subjects to many threats. Currently, their eggs are hunted for freshwater caviar, which poses a large problem for the survival of the species. Females will wait until they are 9-10 years old. When they spawn, the females will generally lay around a half a million eggs. Then, they might not spawn again for a few years. This has led to them being protected in several states, including Oklahoma and Wisconsin, in a conservation effort. Another major issue facing paddlefish is river modification. Construction of dams, dredging, and water removal threaten breeding grounds because paddlefish require free-flowing pools for spawning, further complicating their reproduction process.

Paddlefish are definitely on the top of my cool fish list! Stop by the Aquarium today and have a look for yourself!