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What's Scutes?

Is it the scales on the back of an Atlantic or shortnose sturgeon or is it an effort involving students to track sturgeon movements?  Well, actually it’s both.  Scutes are bony scales on a sturgeon’s body.  SCUTES is also an acronym for “Students Collaborating to Undertake Tracking Efforts for Sturgeon.”  To date, more than 900 students throughout New England in 12 schools and informal education institutions have been involved in this collaborative effort to share information and learn more about the movements, behavior, and threats to Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon along the East Coast of the United States. 


Shortnose sturgeon are listed as endangered throughout their range, and Atlantic sturgeon are listed as threatened in the Gulf of Maine and endangered throughout the rest of their range.  Their current status is primarily due to historic overfishing in the early 1900s, damage and loss of habitat due to construction of dams, interactions with fishing gear and vessels and other human related activities. 

Atlantic sturgeon. Photo credit: NOAA

In 2009, NOAA Fisheries Protected Resources Division in the Northeast developed the SCUTES program in cooperation with elementary and high school students and teachers and sturgeon researchers.  The effort involved attaching acoustic and satellite tags to Atlantic sturgeon up and down the coast to learn more about their movements in and out of various rivers.

NOAA Fisheries staff also developed two educational kits -- one for elementary to middle school use and the other for middle to high school use.  These kits contain activities and a full curriculum about sturgeon. They are complete with age-appropriate lesson plans for key subjects such as science, Language Arts, math, and social studies. All lessons meet the national educational standards, and are easily adaptable to fit school needs.  

The O’Maley Innovation Middle School in Gloucester, MA recently had an opportunity to use this interdisciplinary/project based approach to learning to complement their new educational programs.

O’Maley social studies classes studied the economic exploitation of sturgeon.  Math classes conducted data analysis with sturgeon statistics. Science classes examined sturgeons’ life cycle and adaptations, with a view to the environmental impact on sturgeon populations from dams that limit access to their fresh water spawning habitats.  The English/Language Arts teachers conducted mock public hearings and prepared papers on fishing and the protection of threatened and endangered species.

Want to borrow a kit for your classroom?

The kits are available for teachers to sign out for their classrooms through NOAA Fisheries and through our partners in New England.  Kits will be available through additional partners in New England and south of New England by the end of 2013.  To request a kit, please send an email to NOAA or one of our partners and be sure to include your name, contact information, number of students, and the kit level you are interested in.

 Our Partners

New England Aquarium
Teacher Resource Center
Central Wharf
Boston, MA 02110
Phone: 617-973-6590
Maritime Gloucester
23 Harbor Loop
Gloucester, MA 01930
Phone: 978-281-0470
NOAA Fisheries
Kimberly Damon-Randall
NOAA Fisheries Service
Northeast Regional Office
55 Great Republic Drive
Gloucester, MA 01930-2276


Cool Facts  

Sturgeons have been on the Earth for more than 120 million years – outliving the dinosaurs. 

They have five rows of bony scutes. 

Atlantic sturgeon can grow up to 14 feet and live approximately 60 years. 

Want to know more about these fascinating creatures?  Visit our SCUTES webpage or our Facebook page: