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Meet Herman the Sturgeon

Owen visits “Herman the Sturgeon” at Bonneville Hatchery in Oregon. 

On a recent winter day, “Herman the Sturgeon” swam in a pond with his fish friends. Herman is 10 feet long and weighs nearly 500 pounds. The white sturgeon lives at Bonneville Hatchery near Cascade Locks, Oregon. Many locals consider Herman to be the most popular fish in Oregon. 

“Herman” was introduced to the public in 1932. For several years, he was exhibited at the Oregon State Fair. Before he came to the hatchery, Herman had some unfortunate incidents. He was fishnapped and attacked by vandals.

Over the decades, there have been several Hermans. The current Herman, estimated to be 85 years old, has been at the hatchery since 1998. 

“Herman is our year-round attraction,” said Dan Green, the manager at Bonneville Hatchery. About 500,000 visitors come to see Herman each year.

People are drawn to Herman, Green added, in part because he looks prehistoric. His body is made of cartilage, and he has bony plates called scutes on his back and sides. Herman looks a lot like his ancestors, which date back 100 to 200 million years.

“He’s a living dinosaur,” Green said. 


Owen at the Oregon hatchery with Dan Green, who manages the facility 


Andrea Carpenter is sturgeon project leader for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. She told me that sturgeon are born in freshwater and migrate to marine environments where food is plentiful. When they’re young, they eat plankton and algae. As they grow up, they eat clams and crustaceans such as crawfish. Adult sturgeon mostly eat fish.

One of the most interesting things about sturgeon, Carpenter said, are their barbels, whiskerlike organs near the mouth. Sturgeon use the barbels, which house their taste buds, to help them find food. When sturgeon find something to eat, they suck it in whole. “They don’t have teeth,” Carpenter said. 

The overall population of white sturgeon in Oregon is currently stable. But green sturgeon, the only other sturgeon species on the West Coast, are considered threatened. 

Sturgeon are an important fish for Indigenous people and people in the region, generally, Carpenter said. “They’re our largest freshwater fish on the West Coast, and they’re pretty majestic.”


Herman and other white sturgeon swim at the Sturgeon Viewing and Interpretative Center at Bonneville Hatchery. 

Photos courtesy of the author