Florida Museum of Natural History

Sawfish Conservation

Sawfish Images

A Fish Tale: Sawfish Fact and Fiction Through History
By M. Burger

Sawfish Images

Myth #1) Sawfish use their rostrums to saw whales, boats, and/or humans in half

Contrary to literature, folklore and nautical paintings, there are no credible accounts of sawfish-induced lacerations causing ships-of-old or schooners to capsize. Despite illustrations of sawfish lurking just under the water's surface or waiting to strike the hull of an unsuspecting ship; sawfish are actually benthic elasmobranchs, or "bottom dwellers". They spend a considerable amount of time as juveniles in shallow mangrove nurseries in water that can be only several feet deep. Sawfish are thought to inhabit deeper waters more commonly as their size increases.

Apart from a suspicious account of a man being sawn in half by a sawfish in eighteenth century India (The Field Book of Giant Fishes by J. R. Norman and F. C. Fraser), there are no known cases of sawfish actually killing humans. When sawfish injuries do occur, they are usually minor and normally a result of provoked incidents-for example, when trying to remove a hooked sawfish from a line. The ISED has published a recommended method of the safest way to remove a hooked sawfish (for both fish and fisherman) that is available here.

The diet of sawfish does not include whales, dolphins, or any other variety of marine mammals. Instead, it is comprised primarily of schools of teleost fish, crustaceans, and cephalopods. Adult and large juveniles may also feed on small elasmobranchs including sharks and rays.

However, whales face little threat of being impaled by a sawfish, since they are not natural enemies of the species.

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