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Marine Educators Unexpected Learning Experience

Teachers engaged in student activity. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries

Shortnose sturgeon. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries


When 20 teachers participated in an educator workshop, organized by NOAA Fisheries and partners earlier this fall, they got much more from it than they expected. They had a rare opportunity to see threatened and endangered species in the wild!

The highlight of this particular workshop at the Presquile National Wildlife Refuge was a boat ride where educators witnessed several five to six foot, approximately 80-120 pound sturgeon (can reach up to 14 feet and weigh up to 800 pounds) leap out of the water, much like whales! They also had a chance to learn from scientists about their field work. Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University were on another boat measuring sturgeon. They attached external tags to four male Atlantic sturgeon to track their movements.

Onshore educators also had a chance to try activities taken from the SCUTES1 elementary education kit. SCUTES stands for Students Collaborating to Undertake Tracking Efforts for Sturgeon. It is an educational effort involving NOAA Fisheries and other partners. The first exercise focused on how sturgeon use their sense of smell to find their natal2 rivers. Another exercise used yarn to weave a food web and introduced factors (i.e., a harmful algal bloom) that can affect the food chain. The final exercise demonstrated how a paleontologist collects and uses data in the examination of a scute fossil casting.

"I absolutely loved everything we did that day,” said Rebecca Kazio, a seventh grade Earth Science teacher. “I am excited to begin incorporating my new acquired knowledge and passion about sturgeon into my classroom.”

More about SCUTES

Through the SCUTES program, NOAA Fisheries staff work with educators to design and supply free, on-loan, curriculum to schools that meets national education standards. The curriculum helps stimulate learning in key subject areas (e.g., math, science, language studies and social studies) by incorporating lessons focused on endangered and threatened sturgeon. SCUTES’ participants also team up with sturgeon researchers to learn more about the movements, behavior, and threats to shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon. Researchers provide classrooms with tracking data from fish tagged with acoustic and other types of tags so students can observe fish movements through ocean and river environments. NOAA Fisheries staff also regularly give talks at schools throughout New England.


What makes sturgeon so special?

  • The sturgeon is a fish species that has been around since the age of dinosaurs, over 120 million years. Like salmon, it migrates from oceans to rivers to spawn.
  • Shortnose sturgeon are listed as endangered coast wide, and Atlantic sturgeon are listed as threatened in the Gulf of Maine and endangered throughout the rest of their range.
  • The decline of sturgeon is due to a combination of factors including previous overfishing by the caviar fishery, dams and changes to their habitat, ship strikes, incidental catch in fisheries, and other human activities. 



NOAA Fisheries wants to thank the following for helping us organize and conduct this successful workshop: Suzie Gilley from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Anne Wright from the Virginia Commonwealth University – Rice Rivers Center, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the James River Association, and the Massachusetts Marine Educators Association.

For more information on how you can borrow an educational kit, request a presenter, or adopt a sturgeon, please visit our website at

1. Scutes – not just an educational program, but actually modified boney ganoid scales on the sturgeon's back; there are five rows on a sturgeon’s body that extend from the head to the base of the tail

2. Natal – pertaining to birth