Residents in North Carolina have stumbled upon a strange-looking fish that seemed to have been washed ashore on the beach earlier in the week.

According to reports, the creature appears to be an Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus), a species of fish that has been swimming the waters of the Earth since the age of the dinosaurs some 120 million years ago. This marine animal is considered to be one of the oldest living fish on the planet.

The Atlantic sturgeon is known for its arched back, a bony-plated body with no scales and a tail that resembled that of sharks. The one that was washed on the shores of Carolina Beach near New Hanover County on Monday looks to be of a rarer kind.

Despite living on Earth for millions of years, Atlantic sturgeons continue to face various threats to their existence brought on by the loss of their natural habitat and commercial fishing. Populations of this ancient fish have been over-harvested for decades, leading to their sharp decline in numbers.

The situation is compounded even further by the fact that many overestimate Atlantic sturgeon's reproductive cycle. Females of this species become sexually mature only when they become 16 to 20 years old and they are only able to lay eggs every two to six years.

The United States government has long identified the Atlantic sturgeon as a species of concern since 1988 before being declared as an endangered species in 2012.

The fish was included by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) into its list of threatened species in 2011. This made it illegal for people to fish for Atlantic sturgeon in many areas where the fish are typically found.

These protective sanctions have helped the sturgeons make a bounce back from their endangered status. In February, the Department of Environmental Conservation of New York announced that populations of Atlantic sturgeon living in the Hudson River are now at a 10-year high.

Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region | Flickr 

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