Fish have an interesting evolutionary history that dates back to about 450 million years ago. Fish, such as sturgeon, and paddlefish, evolved from a common ancestor that split from the evolutionary tree in Triassic Period, about 200 million years ago.
Fish are an incredibly ancient, preceding dinosaurs and, of course, human beings. In fact, fish started the evolutionary process of life as we know it! Life on terra firma (earth) began with the first gilled, and limbed, aquatic creatures, as they crawled out of the ancient seas, and onto land about 360 million years ago.
The Triassic Period saw a divergence of other species from their evolutionary line. Fish, such as telosts (ray finned bony fishes) , began forming new species, eventually turning into the modern fish species we see today (e.g. Salmonids). Currently, the sturgeons’ ancestor is unknown, but it is speculated to be a member of the Triassic “Ray – finned, boney fish.”
DEFINITION: Ray – finned, bony fish have an internal skeleton to their fins. The fin skeleton is located entirely within the body wall, with exception of the fin rays, which project out ward.
Bobasatrania canadensis , a Triassic ray – finned, boney fish, fossils have been found near Wapiti Lake , British Columbia . This fish was about one meter in length, and had large crushing teeth to eat hard shelled animals, such as lobster.
Why are fish fossils found in the mountains of British Columbia ?
Answer: During the Triassic Period, British Columbia was almost entirely underwater. In fact, the West coast edge of North America extended from Dawson Creek to Calgary.
The White Sturgeon’s scientific name, Acipenser transmontanus means:
Acipenser – Old world name meaning sturgeon
Transmontanus – Meaning beyond the mountains.
“Sturgeon from beyond the mountains”
FRASER AND COLUMBIA WHITE STURGEON
The Fraser and Columbia rivers were once joined together before the last ice age. After the ice age, mountains formed, separating the two rivers and their fish from intermixing. The white sturgeon populations of the Fraser and Columbia are cousins.
THE WHITE STURGEON
White Sturgeon of the Fraser River were utilized by lower and upper Fraser First Nations for many thousands of years. First Nations used sturgeons as a food source, and for ceremonial purposes. As Simon Fraser traveled on the Fraser River in 1808, First Nation guides brought him sturgeon meat for food.
Years later, European settlers took note of this giant fish in the Fraser River . In 1836, the scientific community investigated reports of the giant fish found west of the Rocky Mountains (the sturgeon beyond the mountains) . The White Sturgeon was confirmed by Sir John Richardson, the first European to identify and “catalogue” this fish as Acipenser transmontanus or the White Sturgeon, a species separate from those sturgeons east of the Rockies.