It is thought to have lived at the same time as dinosaurs, dating back to a period 140 million years ago. Because of that, it is sometimes also known as a living fossil. It is an animal strictly protected by the Chinese government, named a "national treasure" much like its mammalian counterpart, the Giant Panda.
Specimens can range between 200 to 500 centimeters in body length, and weigh 200 to 500 kilograms on average. A grown-up sturgeon measures up to 4 meters long, weighs over 1000 pound, ranking the third biggest only to the White sturgeon and Atlantic sturgeon. Its head is acuminate, with the mouth under its jaw.
The Chinese Sturgeon has a habit of upstream migration: they dwell along the coasts of China's eastern areas and migrate back up rivers for propagation upon reaching sexual maturity. It has the longest migration of any sturgeon in the world and once migrated more than 2,000 miles (3,500 kilometers) up the Yangtze. The sturgeon 's reproductive capacity is poor: it may breed three or four times during their life-cycle, and a female sturgeon can carry in excess of a million eggs in one pregnancy, which are released for external fertilisation when mature. The survival rate to hatching is however estimated to be less than 1 percent.
The Chinese sturgeon is a precious but endangered species native to China. It is largely dispersed over the main streams of the Yangtze River and coastal regions of Qiantang River, Minjiang River and Pearl River. Most aquatic animals are food for the young of the Chinese Sturgeon, while the adults feed on aquatic insects, larval, diatom and humic substances.
In the 1970s, there there were an estimated 2,000 spawning Chinese sturgeons in the Yangtze River every year. Now that number is down to several hundred due to the threats to its habitat, such as pollution and other human action. The channel for adult fish migrating to traditional spawning sites such as the Jinsha River in the upstream of Yangtze River was blocked after the construction of the Gezhouba Dam hydro-electric power project in the early 1980s.
The sturgeon is also highly sensitive to increased noise on the river caused by growing river traffic, as well as being vulnerable to death or injury by boat propellers.
Built in 1982, the Chinese Sturgeon Museum is part of the Chinese Sturgeon Institution of China which is using such artificial breeding techniques to try to preserve this endangered species.
Some success has been claimed by the authorities from artificial inducement for spawning and stream discharge for incubation. In April 29, 2005, to mark the twentieth anniversary of the China's efforts to protect the species, over 10,000 sturgeon fry, 200 junior sturgeon and two adult fish were released into the Yangtze River at Yichang. During the course of the project, 5 million fish bred in captivity have been released into the wild. However, in 2007, 14 young sturgeon were surveyed near the mouth of Yangtze compared with 600 the year before, causing concern that effort was a losing battle in the crowded and polluted Yangtze river.
On 14 July 2008, it was announced that Hong Kong would receive another five sturgeon from the National Aquatic Wildlife Conservation Association in time for the 8 August opening ceremony, to complement the four fish already in situ. In order to avoid further mishaps, the park's management decided to evict its sharks from their aquarium in favour of the new arrivals.