The James River and its tributaries are home to hundreds of species of animals, yet only a handful have the ability to tough it out during the winter. On today’s “From the Marsh”, let’s explore these hardy residents who can survive the coldest months of the year!
The winter flounder, Pseudopleuronectes americanus, is an aptly named flatfish that moves into our waters after spending the summer at the bottom of the ocean far offshore. Unlike the more familiar summer and southern flounder, winter flounder have their eyes on the right-hand side of their body. Members of their family are referred to as “right-eyed” flounder. These stealthy and voracious predators will eat small fish and invertebrates, such as blue crab, while remaining perfectly camouflaged amongst the substrate.
Spot, Leiostomous xanthurus, are another common resident of the Hampton Roads and are robust enough to survive the winter. A member of the drum family, they are perfectly adapted to feast on small invertebrates such as mole crabs. Juveniles of this species, which grow beyond the Gulf Stream during the warmer months, move into estuaries and marshes as they grow into adults. Spot never grow to be large fish, and the cover provided by grasses and oyster reefs is welcome.
Harbor seals, Phoca vitulina, are a species of true seal and have been found in the James River as far upstream as Hopewell! Previously only a winter-time visitor, this marine mammal may now be found hauled on r
ocks at the mouth of the river even in the middle of summer. If you encounter a seal on the beach or in the water, be sure to leave it alone and give it space! Whales, dolphins, seals, and manatees are all protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and all are best enjoyed from a safe distance.
Want to encounter these magnificent animals and more? Be sure to get out and enjoy your river! Bring a pair of binoculars and you will never know what you might encounter. Information about exploring the James may be found here https://thejamesriver.org/explore-the-james/