ABOUT SAWFISH

Sawfish are large, shark-like rays, characterised by a distinct toothed rostrum (or saw). Depending on species, adult sawfish can reach up to 7m. The rostra can be more than a quarter of the total body length. Over the past century populations of all 5 species have drastically declined. All are now listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Narrow Sawfish Illustration © Marc Dando.Narrow Sawfish

Anoxypristis cuspidata
Conservation status: Endangered
Range: Indo-west Pacific (from northern Persian Gulf to Australia and up to Japan)

Dwarf Sawfish Illustration © Marc Dando.Dwarf Sawfish

Pristis clavata
Conservation status: Endangered
Range: Indo-west Pacific (northern Australia)

Smalltooth Sawfish Illustration © 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).

Green Sawfish Illustration © Marc Dando.Green Sawfish
Pristis zijsron
Conservation status: Critically Endangered
Range: Indo-west Pacific 

Largetooth Sawfish Illustration © Marc Dando.Largetooth Sawfish
Pristis pristis
Conservation status: Critically Endangered
Range: Eastern Atlantic, Western Atlantic, Eastern Pacific, Indo-west Pacific


Where Do Sawfish Live?

Sawfish live in shallow coastal waters in tropical and subtropical countries. Here they're often exposed to coastal fisheries. They were once widespread in tropical regions but can now only be found in 2 reliable strongholds: Florida, USA and northern Australia.

What Do Sawfish 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.

Are Rostra Distinct For Each Species?

Rostra are different for each species with variations in tooth count, spacing between teeth and shape. For more information you can download the handy Sawfishes of the World Factsheet below.


SAWFISH THREATS

Sawfish can easily become entangled in fishing gear leading to incidental capture. They’re often retained for their large fins and rostra, which are highly prized for medicinal and cultural purposes. Rostra are also sold as curios in the tourist trade.


SAWFISH CONSERVATION

All species are listed under Appendix I of CITES, which bans their international trade. But this doesn't prevent them from being caught in the first place. There are some national sawfish-specific protective measures in place. Yet 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. Australia also offers protection but this varies across species and regions, and requires strengthening.


THE PROJECT

We’re working to discover more about these unique rays and where they live.

As part of the Sawfish Conservation Society’s citizen science project 'See a Saw' we're helping to find, and document, sawfish rostra. These might be found in stately homes, aquariums, museums, private collections and auction houses. 


For each rostrum, we aim to gather:

  • Photograph – using tooth count and spacing between teeth, we can ID the species it belonged to.

  • Associated social history - Was it passed down through the family? Where did it come from? This could help us trace back the origins of the rostrum and seek out locations where sawfish may have once lived.

  • DNA sample – enabling DNA analysis to be conducted by our partners.

Information collected will be available to researchers worldwide, helping to improve conservation efforts.

DO YOU OWN A ROSTRUM?

  • All 5 species are listed on Appendix I of CITES. This prevents international trade.

  • Most rostra in British collections are likely artefacts or curios, as sawfish are not native to the British Isles.

  • If a rostrum is changing ownership, then an Article 10 Certificate is needed. Guidance about this permit is available from gov.uk - click here

  • If it remains in a private collection no certificate is needed.


HOW CAN YOU HELP?

Seen a saw? Watch the video below from our friends at the Sawfish Conservation Society to find out how you can help: