Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is joining groups all over the world to celebrate International Sawfish Day on October 17th. This day is dedicated to the celebration and education of these unique animals. Currently, all 5 species of Sawfish are endangered or critically endangered due to loss of habitat and poor fishing practices. Here at Ripley’s Aquarium, our mission is to provide world-class animal welfare to ensure our Sawfish have an optimal environment in which to live.
What is a Sawfish?
Sawfish are a unique member of the Elasmobranch Class, making them relatives of sharks and rays. One of the defining features of this class is the ability to detect electromagnetic impulses of their prey. This advantage helps them find sick or injured fish, which are much easier to catch. The main feature that sets sawfish apart from other sharks and rays is their saw-like appendage, called a rostrum. The rostrum has 14 to 23 large rostral teeth that project on each side and is used for hunting as well as defense. Sawfish use the rostrum to dig for a meal in the sand or they will whip the rostrum around in a school of fish for an easy catch. Sawfish can be found all over the world in tropical coastal waters. This includes U.S. populations in the Gulf of Mexico and along the coastlines of our southern states.
Sawfish populations are on the decline globally due to coastal development, and entanglement in fishing nets. Young sawfish rely on shallow habitats filled with vegetation as nursery areas. Development of the waterfront in Florida and other southeastern states has changed much of their habitat.” Sawfish have low reproductive rates, so human development has a major effect on how many will reach adulthood. Sawfish are protected under the Endangered Species Act, and it is illegal to purposely catch, kill, or harm Sawfish. Due to their nose (also known as a rostrum) Sawfish, sadly, are easily entangled in fishing lines. Animals that are caught by mistake are referred to as bycatch and are often already dead when the fisherman pulls the net out of the water.
Ripley’s Aquarium is an accredited AZA facility and is involved in programs such as the Species Survival Plan (SSP). The goal of programs like the SSP is to help threatened and endangered species by identifying threats, engaging the public, and encouraging successful breeding in captivity. Here at Ripley’s Aquarium, we have two Largetooth Sawfish (Pristis pristis) on display in our Shark Lagoon. We are always hopeful that our facility provides a positive environment to improve the chances of breeding. This not only helps to increase the populations of these magnificent animals but is also aims to improve our understanding of the species and what we can do to help the Sawfish thrive.
Exhibit Educator at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies