Scientific Name: Family Pristidae
Description: Sawfish are within the ray order Rajiformes, and are closely related to sharks. There are two species of sawfish found in U.S. waters: the wide or smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) and the largetooth sawfish (Pristis perotteti). Unlike the rest of the cartilaginous fishes, sawfish have evolved a long snout edged with special teeth. The saw-like snout, called a rostrum, can be used in a back and forth swiping motion to cut prey in half or to dig through the sediment.
Size: The smalltooth species averages 18 feet in length and may reach 25 feet.
Diet: Sawfish eat fish and crustaceans. The saw is key to catching and killing prey—in addition to its use as a weapon or digging tool, the saw has small pores that can detect electric fields produced by prey. This super sense is common to sharks and rays alike.
Typical Lifespan: Smalltooth sawfish reach reproductive maturity at 10 years and usually live to 25 or 30 years. Longevity estimates are similar for the largetooth sawfish.
Habitat: Sawfish prefer shallow, coastal waters and even swim into freshwater river systems.
Range: Together, both U.S. species of sawfish occur in the Gulf of Mexico and along the borders of southern states. Apart from the U.S. species, there are five other species of sawfish which are found along the borders of the Indian Ocean, the northeastern part of Australia, and as far north as China and Japan. The U.S. species are also found along South America, near the Gulf of California and on the west coast of Africa.
Life History and Reproduction: Sawfish are ovoviviparous, meaning that rather than laying eggs, females carry the young and give birth to a number of developed juvenile sawfish.
Like many toothed fish, sawfish can replace their teeth if they are worn down or lost. This phenomenon is called polyphyodonty.
Conservation Status: Smalltooth sawfish is Federally listed as Endangered. Sawfish populations are likely declining due to overharvesting and entanglement in fishing gear. Their long, toothed rostrums become very easily entangled with fishing line and nets. The saws are dried and sold as curios in some cultures. Additionally, loss of mangrove forests and other nursery habitats for conversion to beachfront development in the southeast contributes to the decline of sawfish. Recovery efforts are in effect to guide fisherman in the safe release of sawfish that are mistakenly caught. The establishment of marine protected areas and the banning of entangling fishing gear in Florida waters have helped to slow the decline of sawfish.