In celebration of International Sawfish Day (17 October), this month we're showcasing the incredible rostrum wielding sawfishes...

This family of shark-like rays is made up of 5 species:

  • Narrow Sawfish
  • Dwarf Sawfish
  • Smalltooth Sawfish
  • Green Sawfish
  • Largetooth Sawfish

They rank amongst the largest of all rays, with some reaching up to 7m. They're also some of the most threatened elasmobranchs (sharks, skates and rays) in the world.

The end of their snout yields an impressive flattened blade studded with sharp pointy 'teeth'. Known as a rostrum, this resembles a saw - hence their name!

Each species has a distinct saw, with a different tooth arrangement and number of teeth. In fact, the number of teeth is one of the identifying features scientists use to tell the species apart.

Sawfishes use these effective weapons while hunting, and to defend themselves from predators. The saw can make up around ¼ of their total length.

A group of sharks, known as the sawsharks (Pristiophoridae), share this remarkable adaptation. They look very similar to sawfishes but can easily be told part – if you know what to look for...

  • Sawsharks have barbels near their mouth, like whiskers. As sharks, their gills are found on the sides of their body.

  • Sawfishes don’t have barbels and, as rays, their gills are positioned underneath.

Sawfish saws are super sensitive to electrical currents, containing lots of sensory pores known as ampullae of Lorenzini. These can detect the tiniest of muscle contractions given off by prey. Allowing them to hunt in murky waters or in the black of night.

With powerful sweeping motions, they use their rostrum like a club to stun nearby fish. They also eat small bottom-dwelling invertebrates, such as crabs and shrimp. And have been seen using their saw to pin down their prey before eating it.

These bottom-dwelling rays live in shallow coastal waters in tropical and subtropical countries. Once widespread, populations of all 5 species have suffered steep declines over the past century. With some even becoming regionally extinct.

Sawfishes can now only be found in 2 reliable strongholds: Florida, USA and northern Australia.

Sadly, what makes these rays so remarkable also makes them vulnerable to overfishing. Due to their large rostrum and size they can easily become entangled in fishing nets. The rostrum is often sold as curios items or artefacts.

All species are now classified as either Critically Endangered or Endangered.


NARROW SAWFISHNarrow Sawfish Illustration © Marc Dando.

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Anoxypristis cuspidata

  • MAXIMUM SIZE: 350cm

  • DISTRIBUTION: Indo-west Pacific (from northern Persian Gulf to Australia and up to Japan).

  • HABITAT: Primarily coastal shallow waters to at least 40m deep. May venture into estuaries. 

  • CONSERVATION STATUS: Endangered


DWARF SAWFISHDwarf Sawfish Illustration © Marc Dando.

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME:  Pristis clavata

  • MAXIMUM SIZE: 310cm

  • DISTRIBUTION: Indo-west Pacific (northern Australia).

  • HABITAT: Bottom-dwelling in shallow coastal waters on mudflats, mangroves and bays. May venture into rivers and even freshwater.

  • CONSERVATION STATUS: Endangered


SMALLTOOTH SAWFISHSmalltooth Sawfish Illustration © Marc Dando.

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Pristis pectinata

  • MAXIMUM SIZE: 554cm

  • DISTRIBUTION: Western Atlantic (southeastern United States, Bahamas, Cuba, Honduras and Brazil) and Eastern Atlantic (Sierra Leone).

  • HABITAT: Warm shallow coastal waters. Mostly below 10m but may be found up to at least 100m.

  • CONSERVATION STATUS: Critically Endangered


GREEN SAWFISHGreen Sawfish Illustration © Marc Dando.

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Pristis zijsron

  • MAXIMUM SIZE: 700cm

  • DISTRIBUTION: Indo-west Pacific

  • HABITAT: Lives mainly in shallow coastal waters more than 70m deep. Likely to be more tolerant to cooler waters than other sawfish.

  • CONSERVATION STATUS: Critically Endangered


LARGETOOTH SAWFISHLargetooth Sawfish Illustration © Marc Dando.

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Pristis pristis

  • MAXIMUM SIZE: 656cm

  • DISTRIBUTION: Eastern Atlantic, Western Atlantic, Eastern Pacific, Indo-west Pacific.

  • HABITAT: Tropical coastal waters, estuaries and freshwater, often less than 10m deep. Young develop in rivers up to 400km from the sea.

  • CONSERVATION STATUS: Critically Endangered


3 WAYS TO HELP SAWFISH:

  1. Find out more about our work on sawfish and how you can get involved with the See A Saw project.

  2. Sign up to our newsletter - keep up to date with all the latest news and campaign updates.

  3. Join us in safeguarding the future of sharks and rays by becoming a Shark Trust member.


Related Links:

► Check out more incredible sharks and rays covered in our Creature Features

► Discover more fin-tastic facts by visiting our Discover Sharks section