The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is stressing the adherence to proper boating speed and safety measures following the first sturgeon strike fatality in state history during the Fourth of July weekend.
A 5-year-old girl was killed and her mother and brother were injured by a leaping gulf sturgeon while boating on the Suwannee River July 2.
Wildlife officials said Jaylon Rippy died after being struck around 8:40 Thursday evening. Her mother, Tanya Rippy, and her 9-year-old brother suffered non-life-threating injuries and were airlifted to UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville.
Gulf sturgeon are notorious for leaping more than 7 feet above the water, particularly in parts of Florida’s Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers. Numerous north Florida boaters have been injured by the large, airborne sturgeon during the past decade. 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. She suffered a ruptured spleen and had three fingers reattached by surgeons, but she lost her left pinkie finger and a tooth.
A number of sturgeon strikes took place in 2012, though none were reported in 2013 or 2014.
In addition to the incident involving the Rippy family two boaters were hospitalized the following day after a strike on the Santa Fe River
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the (Rippy) family,” said Maj. Andy Krause, FWC regional in Lake City. “This is a terrible tragedy.”
The FWC advises boaters to drive slowly, wear life jackets, and to sit near the back of the boat — away from the bow — to avoid contact with a jumping sturgeon. To reinforce these procedures, the FWC began a safety awareness campaign in 2006.
A spokesperson for the Florida agency said there were no plans to alter its current safety measures following the accident or to close portions of the rivers to boating.