SAWFISH – PREHISTORIC ‘HEDGE TRIMMERS’ OF THE SEA
SAW FISH IN THE ABACO MARLS? NO SURPRISE. SAW A SAWFISH? AWESOME!
Exactly a year ago, an extraordinary find was made out on the Abaco Marls. Almost disguised against the pale mud under the low water was the first sawfish reported for the Marls. This fish is not merely a rarity in the Northern Bahamas: all species of sawfishes worldwide are IUCN listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered.
Here is an account of the discovery reported by FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT: “On a recent fishing trip in the Marls with local guide Justin Sands, Sam and Jacque Cannon had an exciting encounter. As Justin was poling the flats, with Sam on the bow searching for bonefish, Jacque spotted a Sawfish! Jacque and Justin quickly forgot about Sam and his efforts to catch a bonefish and turned their focus to the Sawfish. This is a very rare sighting and one we are happy there was a camera available to document it…” A couple of weeks later I was lucky enough to sit next to Jacque at dinner at the Delphi Club, so I was able to hear at first hand the story of this amazing find. It also turned out to be the perfect time to sign an early copy of “The Birds of Abaco” for Jacque and Sam…
10 ESSENTIAL SAWFISH FACTS
- Sawfishes are also known as Carpenter Sharks; their ‘saw’ is called a ROSTRUM
- There are 7 species in oceans and seas worldwide, including the Mediterranean
- All populations have declined drastically due to habitat loss, overfishing & pollution
- The rostrum is used to feel, to dig, to slash & impale or stun its prey, and for defence
- Sawfishes are nocturnal creatures and spend a lot of time face down on the sea floor
- Like sharks, their skeleton is made of cartilage and not bone.
- Some species can grow up to 7m long
- They are generally unaggressive unless provoked but fight strongly when caught
- Sawfishes are slow breeders, making population recovery more difficult
- Babies are called ‘pups’. Their rostrum is flexible and sheathed until after birth
Other sawfish have been seen recently in the Northern Bahamas, though not in Abaco waters. Last summer the Bahamas National Trust posted 2 great images of a Smalltooth Sawfish, saying “BNT was excited to receive these photographs of a Smalltooth Sawfish photographed in the proposed East Grand Bahama National Park – Bersus Cay Area. The sawfish was 12 to 13 feet long and was seen in water that was 2 -3 feet deep. Thank you to Buzz Cox, Island Manager at Deep water Cay for sending us these photos”.
POPULATION DECLINE As noted above, Sawfish populations have declined to less than 10% of historical levels. The Smalltooth Sawfish – seen above – was once prolific in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Mediterranean, Black Sea and Indo-Pacific. Population numbers of this species are now estimated at less than 5% to perhaps as low as 1% of their historic levels.
THREAT TO SURVIVAL The threats to their existence are many: habitat loss, overfishing, accidental bycatch, rostrum souvenir hunters (good prices can be obtained), taking them for fins (as a delicacy) or oil from their liver (medicinal).