At first it looked like an alligator partially buried in the beach sand on Ocracoke Island, Mona Aly said. But she moved the sand away from the scaly, prehistoric-looking creature and took some pictures in hopes of identifying the fish.
“I had never seen them before,” she said in an interview with McClatchy. She estimated it was three to four feet long. She posted the photos to Facebook hoping to identify the strange sea creature.
It was an Atlantic sturgeon. “These fish are considered living fossils, so all the folks who commented that it looks like some prehistoric creature were on point,” the Ocracoke Current wrote after Aly shared the photos with the newspaper.
Atlantic sturgeon can live up to 60 years, growing up to 14 feet long and 800 pounds, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They are listed as endangered in the Carolinas and Chesapeake Bay regions.
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They have rows of bony plates, called scutes, along their bodies giving them the prehistoric look, NOAA explains.
Sturgeon start their lives in rivers when they hatch and then head out to sea. Once the slow-growing fish reach adulthood, they return to where they were born to lay their own eggs, according to NOAA.
Sturgeon can live in salt and fresh water and live all along the East Coast, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Sturgeon were fished until they reached endangered levels. NOAA notes, “Atlantic sturgeon were prized for their eggs, which were valued as high-quality caviar.”