Endangered Small-toothed Sawfish and the Indian River Lagoon

Small-toothed Sawfish, Sewall's Point, 1916. Reported 18-28 feet, they  were once common in the Indian River Lagoon. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Thurlow's archives and the Historical Society of Martin County.)
Small-toothed Sawfish, Sewall’s Point, 1916. Historically reported from 18-28 feet, they were once extremely common in the Indian River Lagoon. (Photo courtesy archives of Sandra Thurlow and the Historical Society of Martin County.)

I guess as much as I have just begun to really fight for our Indian River Lagoon/St Lucie River, many of its most spectacular creatures have been dying off for a very long time. For me, the most notable of these is the prehistoric, quiet, remarkable, and since 1999, “critically endangered,” small toothed sawfish whose numbers have been estimated to have been reduced by up to 99%, due mostly, to thankfully former, commercial fishing practices.

Many may not realize that this fish, the “small toothed sawfish” was the first marine fish determined as “critically endangerd” in United States’ waters, right here, along the Indian River Lagoon’s Treasure Coast!

Sources for this post:(http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/statusreviews/smalltoothsawfish.pdf)



As a kid growing up in Stuart in the 60s, 70s and 80s, I would hear about sawfish and see pictures, but I never “saw” one, until recently believe it or not, when one was reported and photographed in the Stuart News, caught near the Ernie Lyons Bridge in Sewall’s Point. The creature was released, giving hope for its survival and comeback.

How incredibly cool, “Leviathan lives!”

As far as notes of interest: sawfishes are a family of rays and their mouth and nostrils are on its flat underside. Its skeleton is made of cartilage; they can live up to fifty years and don’t mature sexually until they are about ten. Bearing young only every other year, sawfish babies grow in eggs inside their mother and once they are fully developed, she gives birth to her “pups,” usually around 1-15 in number.

By far, the sawfishes most distinctive feature is its “rostrum,” or saw, which is covered with electrosensitive pores that allow it to sense even the beating heart of of its prey hiding in the mud or muck covered bottom. They can also dig with their unique appendage and slash/stun fish above them to ingest whole. The saw is also used to protect them from shark attacks but unfortunately “nets,” which were allowed in the Indian River from time beginning until 1994, caught possibly over time hundreds of thousands of these creatures “accidentally.” Most were simply killed, usually by cutting off the saw, and the dying fish left to sink to the bottom discarded. In its hey-day, more small toothed saw fish lived in the Indian River Lagoon than any other body of  water on the planet.

All things considered, I think the small toothed sawfish should become our symbol  for the Indian River Lagoon movement that really took shape  in 2013. The Indian River Lagoon, like the critically endangered small toothed sawfish, after years of hiding on the bottom, is finally coming back,  full of vim and vigor,  to rightfully claim its former glory.





6 thoughts on “Endangered Small-toothed Sawfish and the Indian River Lagoon

  1. I Just Love Your Post Angel Jacqui. As A Youngster, We caught and Released many Saw Tooth`s in my Native Lake Worth Lagoon, in the Munyon Island area.They are incredible Gifts to us from Mother Nature. I was and still am in Awe of their uniqueness and Beauty and Pray for their return to our Fragile Eco-systems. Lee@Intracoastalecosystems.com

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