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Sawfish on the brink of extinction, gone in over half its natural habitats

Sawfish Crisis: Save the Swimming Lawn Tool!

There are lots of unique, wild-looking fish living under the sea — and the sawfish is definitely one of them! But if we don’t act now to save the positively prehistoric ocean- and freshwater-dwellers, future generations may never catch glimpses of the “hedge trimmers with fins.”

Largetoothed sawfish, Australia

My, you look just like a hedge trimmer?

Sawfishes are a type of ray that sport super-long flat snouts, called rostrums, which are lined with outward-facing teeth. All in all, their aesthetic screams “lawn tool.” The resemblance is uncanny!

What’s the purpose of these impracticable appendages? Scientists believe they evolved as built-in swords. But, as ocean populations shifted and human fishing flourished, sawfish noses became a liability.

Sawfishes — also known as carpenter sharks — measure about 25 feet (7.6 meters) and tip the scales at 1,323 pounds (600 kilograms)! As low-key omnivores, sawfishes eat small fish, crustaceans, and mollusks, but little is known about their behavioral habits because they’ve largely evaded human observation in the wild.

Largetoothed sawfish

On the Verge of Extinction

Sadly, the sawfishes are not all right and rank among the most endangered fish.

According to a recent study, their range has dwindled from 90 coastlines to about 35. Brunei, China, Djibouti, El Salvador, Haiti, Iraq, Japan, Timor-Leste, and Taiwan have all lost their sawfish populations. The animal’s two remaining “lifeboat coastlines” are the United States and Australia.

So what’s behind the sawfish decline?

Commercial fishing is the animal’s primary opponent. Industrial nets snag their once-useful “saws,” and individuals meet their ends as bycatch. Pollution and habitat loss also present problems — as does marine poaching for teeth and fins, which are prized as trophies and traditional medicine elements.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature categorizes three of the five sawfish species as Critically Endangered and two as Endangered.

Dwarf sawfish entangled in fishing line

Conservation Efforts Are Afoot

Helen Yan, a marine biologist from Simon Fraser University, explained to the BBC that “if we act now,” sawfishes can probably repopulate 70 percent of their historical scope. Shark Advocates International researcher Sonja Fordham agrees with Yan but warns that “we’re running out of time to save them.”

Brazil, Cuba, Colombia, Madagascar, Mexico, Panama, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania are also prime candidates for “rewilding” conservation efforts — as are the fish’s current preferred coastlines of Australia and the United States.

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Joe Kahlo

Written by Joe Kahlo

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