How Long Is The Ohio (and other questions)?

We had cause to drive into Indiana yesterday, a trip that took us across the Ohio border into northern Kentucky, and then across the Kentucky border into Indiana. And in the area we live, both of those borders are the Ohio River.

My son loves this river – my wife and/or I probably cross the river with him in the car two or three times a week. When he first learned to talk, he called it “my river”, and would excitedly point it out every time he saw it. He’s speculated on whether or not sharks and whales are in the river, insisted it’s actually the ocean, and told me that there are pirates in the river.

Today, though, he was startled to realize we’d crossed it twice while driving in a straight line (well, for “driving on a beltway” values of “driving in a straight line”).  So, from the back seat, he asks “how long is the Ohio?”

Well, I have no idea. So, let’s find out. And maybe answer a few of his other questions while I’m at it.

How long is the Ohio River?


According to the Ohio River Foundation, the Ohio River is 981 miles long.  It begins in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at the meeting of the Allegheny and the Monongahela Rivers, and flows until it reaches the Mississippi River in Cairo, Illinois.  Ohio River Facts tells us that the average depth is 24 feet, although it hits a depth of 132 feet near Louisville, Kentucky, and it’s widest point is about one mile (at Smithland Dam)  Wikipedia adds that it is considered to be the main stream of the entire Mississippi river system

Are there sharks in the Ohio? Whales?

No.  Sharks and whales generally reside in salt water and generally would be unable to travel the thousand miles along the Mississippi that would be necessary to reach the Ohio River.  The Falls of the Ohio State Park does list the types of fish found in the river, though.  In brief, they are:

  • Bass
  • Bowfin
  • Carp
  • Catfish
  • Codfish
  • Darters
  • Drum
  • Eels
  • Gar
  • Minnows (and “Minnow-like” fish)
  • Lampreys
  • Mooneyes
  • Paddlefish
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Walleyes
  • Sculpin
  • Shad
  • Sturgeon
  • Sunfish

Some oceanic fish do make it up the Mississippi to the Ohio, though.  These include the Coho Salmon, Atlantic Rainbow Smelt, and the Sea Trout.  There’s also at least one documented case of a South American fish called a red pacu being caught in the Ohio – most likely something from an aquarium that was dumped in the river.

Still, crazy things happen.  Remember how I said that “sharks and whales generally reside in salt water and generally would be unable to travel the thousand miles along the Mississippi”?  Well, in 2014, a dead bull shark was found near Manchester, Ohio.  It was small, only about 2 feet 9 inches (0.8382 meters) long, but there it was.  Sadly, I couldn’t find any follow-up information about how it got there.  They are freshwater tolerant, though, so it’s not unreasonable that it could have swum all the way.  The same isn’t true for the spiny dogfish shark found in Illinois in 2010, though, which was most likely caught by a fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico and then dumped.

I couldn’t find any confirmed sightings of dolphins or whales, though.


Are there pirates on the Ohio River?

Yes.  Or, at least, there were.  The town of Cave-In-Rock, Illinois was home to a few different bands of river pirates in the 18th century.  Most preyed on flatboats that became stuck on rocks, but at least one gang posed as river pilots.  They would take on the job of steering the boats through the tricky waters of the area, and then maroon them at Cave-In-Rock where they could be robbed and killed.

There were others, as well.  Cave-In-Rock wasn’t the only source of pirates on the Mississippi and Ohio, after all.

Is the Ohio River the ocean?

No.  Clearly not.