Every diver has a bucket list of places they want to dive and the type of marine life they hope to someday see. The waters off the coast of Jupiter, Florida have plenty of bucket list sightings; sea turtles, goliath groupers, and sharks to name a few. But there is another, more elusive fish that calls these waters home that needs to be added to the list—the sawfish. And Jupiter Dive Center wants to help you see one for yourself.
Even if you’ve never encountered a sawfish before, it is an easy species to identify—unsurprisingly their elongated snout (rostrum) looks like a saw with sharp transverse teeth lining the edges and can be as much as one-third the entire length of the fish. Also known as carpenter sharks, they actually belong to the ray family. Depending on the species, small sawfishes commonly reach 10 to 11 feet in length. Larger species typically come in around 16 feet. According to the Florida Museum, the largest sawfish is believed to be a whopping 24 feet long!
It’s comforting to note that sawfish, despite their size, prefer diets devoid of divers. While the rostrum is used in predation and for defense, the teeth in their mouths are small and flat—similar to those possessed by stingrays. While hunting, sawfishes whip their saw through schools of fish, stunning or injuring their prey. Sawfish are not aggressive toward people, nor do they shy away from divers like many shark species. That said, they will defend themselves if provoked or threatened.
There are five species of sawfishes located throughout the world—and all are considered endangered. To combat the declining population of sawfish, Florida prohibited harvesting of the fish in 1992. In 2003, the sawfish had the dubious distinction of being the very first marine fish to be added to the federal Endangered Species Act.
The smalltooth sawfish can be found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida. Although still a rare occurrence, sightings of the sawfish are increasing along the Jupiter coast—a hopeful sign that the population of these endangered fish is rebounding. NOAA Fisheries announced an initiative last year encouraging divers, anglers and boaters to report sawfish encounters by calling 1-844-4SAWFISH. The information will help scientists learn more about sawfish behavior and population growth or decline.
Many tribal cultures consider the sawfish culturally important. The Kuna, for example, believe sawfish will fend off dangerous sea creatures and protect mariners from drowning. In other cultures, sawfish inspires admiration and is often considered to be a symbol of strength and spirituality.
Sawfish are fascinating creatures. In the winter, Jupiter Dive Center designates specific charters to go in search of sawfish on our northern reefs where the fish have been spotted before. Follow us on Facebook to be the first to see our special event announcements and lock in your spot on the boat! Even if we don’t find one, you’re still diving in Jupiter—and you may just get to check something off your bucket list!