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Sawfish © Doug Perrine.

Sawfish are large, shark-like rays, characterised by a distinct toothed rostrum (or saw). As a member of the IUCN Sawfish Network, the Shark Trust is working with the Sawfish Conservation Society and The Deep to discover more about these unique rays and where they live.

Over the past century populations of all five species of sawfish have declined drastically and they are no longer found across much of their former range - the only reliable strongholds are now in Florida and northern Australia. The rostra of sawfishes are easily entangled in fishing gear leading to incidental capture; however these rostra are highly prized for medicinal and cultural purposes and are sometimes sold as curios. The Shark Trust has joined the Sawfish Conservation Society’s citizen science project See a Saw to help document sawfish rostra held in stately homes, aquariums, museums, private collections and auction houses. All five species are listed on Appendix I of CITES which prevents international trade, but with sawfish non-native to the British Isles, most rostra specimens held in British collections are likely artefacts or curios and therefore pre-date CITES listing.

For each rostrum, we aim to gather a photograph to identify which species it belonged to (using the tooth count), any associated social history (if it was passed down through the family, where it came from etc.) and a DNA sample where possible. Any associated social history could help trace back to where the rostrum first originated from, and enable us to seek out locations where they may have once lived to better understand their former range. Information collected will be available to sawfish researchers around the world to improve conservation efforts.

WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOU HAVE A ROSTRUM? - Our friends at the Sawfish Conservation Society have made it easy for you and included how to measure your rostrum in this short video…


WHAT IS A SAWFISH? - Sawfishes are large, shark-like rays, characterised by a distinct toothed rostrum (or saw). Depending on species, adult sawfish can reach up to 7m in length and the rostra can be more than one quarter of the total body length.

HOW MANY SPECIES ARE THERE? - There are five species of sawfish; all are listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

WHERE DO SAWFISHES LIVE? - Sawfishes inhabit shallow coastal waters in tropical and subtropical countries, where they are often exposed to coastal fisheries. They were once widespread in tropical regions, however during the past century populations of all species have declined – there are now only two reliable strongholds: Florida, USA and northern Australia.

WHAT DO SAWFISHES USE THEIR ROSTRA FOR? - Sawfish rostra contain sensory organs which detect minute electrical signals from potential prey (fishes or crustaceans). Once detected, the rostrum is used as a club to stun the prey or to pin it to the floor before eating it. They are even able to locate and target free-swimming fish in muddy water.

WHAT THREATS DO THEY FACE? - Rostra can easily become entangled in fishing gear (particularly trawls and gillnets) leading to incidental capture. Sawfishes are often retained for their large fins and their rostra, which are highly prized for medicinal and cultural purposes, as well as sold as curios in the tourist trade.

ARE ROSTRA DISTINCT FOR EACH SPECIES? - The rostra are different for each species with variations in the tooth count, spacing between teeth and the overall shape. Download this handy factsheet for further detail.

ARE SAWFISHES PROTECTED? All species are listed under Appendix I of CITES which essentially bans international trade; however this does not prevent them from being caught in the first place. Some national sawfish-specific protective measures are in place, but these vary from country to country and enforcement of these laws is often poor. The US offers the strongest legal protection for the Largetooth and Smalltooth Sawfishes, along with additional bycatch mitigation and habitat conservation measures for the Smalltooth Sawfish. Australia also offers protection however it would benefit from strengthening as requirements vary across species and regions.

Narrow Sawfish
Anoxypristis cuspidata
Conservation status: Endangered
Range: Indo-west Pacific (from northern Persian Gulf to Australia and up to Japan)
Narrow Sawfish © Marc Dando.
Dwarf Sawfish
Pristis clavata
Conservation status: Endangered
Range: Indo-west Pacific (northern Australia)
Dwarf Sawfish © Marc Dando.
Smalltooth Sawfish
Pristis pectinata
Conservation status: Critically Endangered
Range: Western Atlantic (southeastern United States, Bahamas, Cuba, Honduras and Brazil) and Eastern Atlantic (Sierra Leone).
Smalltooth Sawfish © Marc Dando.
Green Sawfish
Pristis zijsron
Conservation status: Critically Endangered
Range: Indo-west Pacific
Green Sawfish © Marc Dando.
Largetooth Sawfish
Pristis pristis
Conservation status: Critically Endangered
Range: Eastern Atlantic, Western Atlantic, Eastern Pacific, Indo-west Pacific
Largetooth Sawfish © Marc Dando.


Sawfish leaflet (pdf)

Sawfish A3 poster (pdf)

► Sawfish: A Global Strategy for Conservation (pdf)

IUCN SSG Infographic

► The Deep infographics - Sawfish - be in the nose (pdf) | Sawfish - not to be sniffed at see a saw (pdf)

► Colour a Sawfish - Kids (pdf) | Adult (pdf)

Saving Sawfish: Progress and Priorities (pdf)