Sawfish Need Love, Too!

Shark Week may be over, but these residents of our Shark Alley exhibit need some time in the spotlight!

Published August 03, 2018

Although they resemble sharks and reside in our Shark Alley exhibit, sawfish are rays. They are members of the elasmobranch subclass, which includes sharks, skates and rays. Their name comes from their iconic rostrum, which is equipped with teeth and resembles a saw. Sharks were the talk of the town last week with Shark Week, but their relatives need some love, too!

Sawfish swimming in Shark Alley

There are five species of sawfish: the largetooth sawfish, the smalltooth sawfish, the green sawfish, the dwarf sawfish and the narrow sawfish. The species can be differentiated by the shape, number, and distribution of rostral teeth, the presence or absence of a lower lobe to the caudal fin and the location of the first dorsal fin.

Sawfish were once common in many coastal tropical waters, but they are currently the most imperiled group of sharks and rays. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists two species as endangered and three species as critically endangered, and all five are listed under the United States Endangered Species Act. They have suffered significant population declines throughout their geographic range.

Of the five species, only two have been encountered in North American waters, the smalltooth and the largetooth. There are usually anywhere from 20 to 32 teeth on the rostrum of the smalltooth sawfish, while the largetooth’s rostrum has between 14 and 24.

Although depleted, there are signs that smalltooth sawfish are slowly recovering, having once been restricted to a very small range.

Like sharks, sawfish are vital members of the oceanic ecosystem food chain, regulating populations by feeding on small fish and crustaceans.

Stay tuned for International Sawfish Day on October 17 to learn more about these endangered rays!

Previous Post

Featured Stories

Jellies in petri dish Welcome to the Jelly Jungle

Deep inside the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET) building, the National Aquarium runs a little-known lab. Here we carry out the propagation of jellies, many of which later end up on exhibit in Jellies Invasion. Read on for a peek into the process!

Read the full story

Cold stunned turtle Cold Stunning: Where, How and Why?

Picture this: You’ve just spent a wonderful, late summer week on Cape Cod, swimming in the ocean and enjoying the sunshine with friends and family. As fall sets in, you know it’s time to head home. You get on the highway, but something strange happens … despite driving for hours, you end up back where you started. You feel sluggish, confused and exhausted. If you were a turtle, you just might be cold-stunned.

Read the full story

Related Stories

Recognizing Endangered Species Day

Published May 17, 2019

Recognizing International Sawfish Day

Published October 17, 2018