A 5-year-old Florida girl died after a sturgeon leaped into her boat along the Suwannee River and struck her.
Wildlife officials said Jaylon Rippy died after being struck Thursday night. Her mother and 9-year-old brother were also injured and taken to a Gainesville hospital. Their condition was not known.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said this is the first fatality recorded from a sturgeon strike on the Suwannee River. Four people have been injured by jumping sturgeon this year, including two boaters who were taken to the hospital Friday.
Wildlife officials say Colleen Harvey, 42, and her husband Charles, 41, were struck while boating along the Santa Fe River. Last month, a 14 year old was knocked unconcscious by a sturgeon while boating with her family.
The fish are famous for leaping more than 7 feet above the water, and many people boating on the north Florida river have been injured by the large, airborne sturgeon over the years. The large, prehistoric-looking sturgeon have hard plates along their backs. They can grow up to 8 feet long and up to 200 pounds and cause serious injuries.
In 2007, a leaping sturgeon severely injured a 50-year-old woman from St. Petersburg as she was riding a personal watercraft along the Suwannee River. She suffered a ruptured spleen and had three fingers reattached by surgeons, but she lost her left pinkie finger and a tooth.
The fish usually return to the area in the spring, but their acrobatics often depend on the water levels. This year’s low levels are causing the sturgeon to jump more frequently than in recent years. Biologists aren’t sure why they jump, but they assure boaters that the fish aren’t trying to attack people.
Boaters are urged to wear life jackets and avoid the bow of the boat to avoid injury.