SPECIES: Pristis pristis — Largetooth Sawfish, Freshwater Sawfish, River Sawfish, Leichhardt's Sawfish, Northern Sawfish


Australia is considered 'home' to three of the world's five species of sawfish. Worldwide, the sawfish is considered as one of the most endangered fish on the planet. Extinct species of fossilised sawfish found have been dated back 60-100 million years ago. Just astounding. It really is a living link to the prehistoric ages. The three species found in Australian waters are the Largetooth Sawfish (averaging 6-7m in length), the Green Sawfish and the Dwarf Sawfish (but not-so-dwarf, at an average 3-3.5m in length)! All three are listed by the Australian Government as vulnerable.

The sawfish - not to be confused with a swordfish, stingray or shark - is similar to a ray, but has a rostrum or nose extension usually 1/3 to 1/4 of the total length of its body that comes out from its skull. It has teeth eitherside, making it saw-like. The sawfish uses this rostrum to detect and hunt its prey (fish, crustaceans and molluscs). As a species, the sawfish is a slow breeder, gives birth to live young and are generally harmless to humans - for we are far too large for them to digest! They can adapt to salinity, and so are found in coastal and estuary waters as well as freshwater rivers and lakes, usually no deeper than 10m.

For thousands of years, the sawfish has been hunted, its fins considered important in ancient medicines and it faces constant habitat loss. International Sawfish Day on 17 October each year focusses on the need for sawfish conservation and the importance of sawfish in oceans and waters around the world. Visit the Sawfish Conservation Society website, which has some great materials, particularly for engaging children and teaching them about this prehistoric beauty so they can take on preserving them for future generations.

Photo: By Simon Fraser University - University Communications - Sawfish, CC BY 2.0,

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