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Mysterious giant white sturgeon could shed light on toxins in Lake Washington

Community members said the fearsome-looking fish brings a "message from the deep."

KENMORE, Wash. — Elizabeth Mooney is on the trail for clues at the north end of Lake Washington.

"That's her spine right there," Mooney said pointing to a rotting carcass.

Mooney is investigating the death of someone she considers a friend.

"We want to know why she died here," Mooney said.

That "friend" is named Samantha: Samantha the Sturgeon.

Mooney found the massive fish dead at Kenmore's Log Boom Park earlier this month. The sturgeon was over 8 feet long, about 70 years old and weighed 300 to 400 pounds.

Sturgeon are native to Washington and date back 200 million years on this planet. No one knows how many live here, but everyone here wants to know how this one died.

When scientists examined the carcass they found no evidence of injuries.

Initial thoughts are that it may have died from warming Lake Washington waters or perhaps a parasite, but at this point, no one knows.

"She's giving us clues," Mooney said. "Is it toxins at the top end of the lake or is it something completely different?"

Mooney and other concerned citizens at the north end of Lake Washington are concerned Samantha The Sturgeon could be a canary in the coal mine for the lake because of toxins known to be in the water here. 

They want testing of the water and sediment to see how bad it is.

Sturgeons are bottom dwellers and eat from the sediment on the lake floor.

The shells of clams were found in the fish's belly.

Bob Pacunski, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife research scientist, said tissue samples are being examined to determine what, if anything, may have poisoned Samantha.

"We may be able to see if there is any contamination in the flesh of the fish," Pacunski said. "Maybe that has contributed to its demise. It's hard to say. Fish die from old age. They die from stress."

Meantime, Mooney finds comfort in knowing Samantha's death will help shed some light on conditions on Lake Washington's dark bottom.

"I didn't want her to go to waste," Mooney said. "Her message from the deep has connected this community in ways that we humans haven't been able to conjure up."


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