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Sawfish in Key West

Endangered Sawfish Spotted in Key West

Have you ever imagined stumbling upon a rare gem in a vast ocean of uncertainty? Picture this: a glimpse of an endangered sawfish gracefully gliding through the waters of Key West, a sight as fleeting as it is captivating.

 

This recent sighting has sparked intrigue and concern among researchers and environmentalists alike. Stay tuned as we unravel the mystery behind the sudden appearance of these elusive creatures and the implications it holds for the delicate ecosystem of the Florida Keys.

Sawfish in Key West

Sawfish sightings In Key West​

Over the past few weeks, a troubling sight has been unfolding in Key West with more than a dozen endangered sawfish turning up dead in the Lower Keys. These majestic creatures, with their long rostrum lined with teeth, are a rare and unique sight. You might be surprised to know that these sawfish can grow up to 23 feet in length, making them impressive inhabitants of the waters around Key West.

3/1/2024 Update:  The current number of sawfish picked up by FWC has exceeded 40.   Just yesterday I witnessed FWC retrieving another one from the SE shore of Ballast Key.

Sawfish Spotted in a pod of Dolphin off Key West Florida

While on charter in the area, people have been fortunate enough to spot these creatures. Just recently, an estimated 12-foot sawfish was seen off Boca Grande Key, and another one, approximately 8-10 feet in length, was spotted near Naval Air Station Key West at Boca Chica Key Sandbar. These sightings aren’t only exciting but also concerning, given the recent deaths of these endangered animals.

Check out this video below of a 12+ foot sawfish swimming with a pod of dolphin in about 7 feet of water.  Look closely at the upper right hand corner of the video.

What are Sawfish?

Sawfishes, although resembling sharks, are actually rays with cartilaginous skeletons. Their unique rostrum, resembling a saw, is used for both hunting and defense. The smalltooth sawfish, in particular, has a distinctive olive-gray to brown coloration on its top side and a white underside, adding to its captivating appearance in the waters of Key West.

Sawfish Spotted

Smalltooth Sawfish Habitats in the Florida Keys

Smalltooth sawfish in the Florida Keys primarily inhabit shallow backcountry mangrove and seagrass habitats as well as deeper offshore areas along the continental shelf. These habitats provide crucial environments for different life stages of the sawfish, with adults using both shallow coastal areas like Florida Bay and deeper waters 45-70 meters deep off the continental shelf.

Sawfish are more vulnerable to capture in commercial fisheries, particularly in the deeper shelf edge habitats. The usage of these main habitats can vary depending on the season and sex of the sawfish, but initial data suggest that mating activities may occur in the deeper offshore regions.

Pupping and mating likely happen in the spring on a biannual cycle, showcasing the importance of these diverse habitats for the smalltooth sawfish population in the Florida Keys. Understanding and protecting these habitats are crucial for the conservation of this endangered species.

Sawfish Spotting
FWC Retrieving a Sawfish at Balast Key

Are Smalltooth Sawfish Endangered?

The smalltooth sawfish, an endangered species, faces severe threats due to overfishing, habitat loss, and entanglement in marine debris. Populations of smalltooth sawfish have dramatically declined, primarily because of habitat loss linked to coastal development and accidental capture in fisheries.

 

In 2003, the U.S. distinct population segment of smalltooth sawfish was listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, marking it as the first marine fish to receive federal protection. It’s crucial to note that it’s illegal to catch, harm, harass, or kill an endangered sawfish.

 

 

Smalltooth sawfish were once found in a vast area ranging from North Carolina to central Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico, but now they’re mainly concentrated in south Florida. These large, shark-like rays with their distinctive saw-like rostrum are crucial to the marine ecosystem, and efforts are being made by NOAA Fisheries to study and protect them, as there’s still much to learn about their life history and distribution.

Are Sawfish Aggressive?

Despite their fearsome appearance with a saw-like rostrum, sawfish aren’t inherently aggressive towards humans. Sawfish are generally shy and elusive creatures that prefer to avoid confrontation. Their saw-like rostrum, which can grow up to a third of their total body length, is primarily used for hunting small fish and crustaceans rather than for aggressive behavior towards larger animals like humans.

When encountering humans, sawfish tend to be more focused on finding food or navigating their marine environment. They aren’t known to actively seek out or attack humans unless provoked or threatened. In fact, sawfish are more likely to swim away or hide rather than engage in aggressive behavior.

It is important to remember that sawfish are endangered species and should be treated with respect and caution in their natural habitat. By maintaining a safe distance and observing these fascinating creatures from afar, we can help protect both sawfish and ourselves.

Sawfish

What do sawfish eat?

With a formidable saw-like rostrum, sawfish primarily slash through schools of fish to feed, impaling and stunning their prey with precision. These creatures primarily dine on small fish like mullet, using their rostrum to incapacitate them before consumption.

Additionally, sawfish may also consume benthic crustaceans and other invertebrates that they disturb from the seabed using their saw-like appendage. Fascinatingly, reports have shown that sawfish aren’t averse to preying on small sharks as well.

Their unique rostrum, equipped with an electro-sensory system, aids in detecting the faint electrical signals emitted by other creatures, alerting them to the presence of potential meals. This adaptive feature allows sawfish to identify and seize prey efficiently.

Therefore, smalltooth sawfish exhibit a diverse diet, primarily consisting of small fish but also encompassing various invertebrates, showcasing their versatility in foraging habits.

Key West Smalltooth Sawfish

Conclusion

 

Now that you’ve learned about the endangered sawfish in Key West, it’s clear that these majestic creatures need our help to survive. By supporting conservation efforts and spreading awareness, we can ensure that future generations will have the opportunity to witness the beauty and grace of sawfish in their natural habitat.

 

Together, we can make a difference in protecting these unique animals and preserving their place in the waters of south Florida. Make a difference today!

 

Florida Fish and Wildlife are asking for HELP!
Please Report all Sightings

Key West Smalltooth Sawfish

They can be reported at this link or:

E-mail: Sawfish@MyFWC.com
Telephone: 844-472-9347 (1-844-4SAWFISH)

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