Sawfish shot to internet fame when the world cottoned on to how thoroughly unimpressed they appear when spotted from below, with their looong rostrums (the pointy bits on fish which sometimes kill massive sharks) giving them a real air of despair. Are they the ocean’s most judgmental fish? These species discovered in 2020 certainly seem to think so. Whilst perhaps not the ocean’s most charismatic species, these Rhinopristiformes (that are closely related to sharks) have been roaming the seas for 100 million years, and – in their defense – you might not look all that impressed to find yourself on the brink of extinction.
While endangered, sawfish achieved a new milestone last week as reports led the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to the carcass of a 4.9-meter (16-foot) long female that had been found dead in Florida Keys. Though it was the end of the line for the deceased animal, the discovery marks the largest sawfish on record, weighing around 363 to 454 kilograms (800 to 1000 pounds). This female specimen tops the previous record holder, who was found to be 4.3 meters (14 feet) long at 14 years of age.
Dedicated research into these fish began roughly two decades ago, so there is still much mystery surrounding the unique-looking sharks (though we do know they have virgin births). The record-breaking female and another dead specimen found at the same time will now be analyzed to find out more about their anatomy, age and potentially why they died.
“Tissue was taken for DNA analysis that will be compared to other sawfish that have been studied throughout Florida,” said Rachel Scharer of the FWC in an email to IFLScience. “We’re adding to our knowledge of when sawfish mature, and we will be able to learn more about the average size at maturity for female sawfish from these two. Often these necropsies also help us learn about parasites they might be carrying.”
"The age of a sawfish can be estimated in a way similar to that of aging trees, as the structure of their vertebrae correlates to the animal’s age. The oldest known specimen aged using this method was found to be 14 years old, but the oldest known shark determined from recapture was 19 years old, so it will be interesting to see how the age of the record-breaking female compares," Scharer continued.
“Right now, it’s beautiful in Florida and people are out fishing and boating so we are getting calls and emails about healthy sawfish almost every day. Calls about deceased sawfish are more rare, between 5-10 a year."
“They are endangered, so they aren’t really 'common' anywhere. Luckily when we receive encounter reports or when scientists encounter them in the field while doing research, they are typically healthy. However, in the past few years we have seen an increasing number of sawfish entangled with ball bungee cords often used to secure boat lift canopy’s near heavily developed areas, such as the Charlotte Harbor estuary.”
If you see a deceased sawfish or a live shark that appears injured, you can call 1-844-4SAWFISH (844-472-9347) or email email@example.com. More information on sawfish is available at sawfishrecovery.org. The FWC are also asking for anyone who has any type of sawfish encounter to let them know at Sawfish@myfwc.com (or 1(844)4SAWFISH) to help with their ongoing research into these bizarre but amazing sharks.