Our recent dives were typical of winter diving off the coast of Jupiter. Good vis, 74 degrees, and a slight north current, where we saw an array of sharks; nurse, reefs, and a lemon. Hawksbill, and loggerhead turtles, spotted and green morays, a shy goliath grouper. Towards the end of our dive, west of the reef ledge, over the sandy bottom. We were ecstatic to spot a more elusive fish that calls these waters home —the "smalltooth sawfish".
Sawfish belong to the family Pristidae, derived from a Greek term meaning "saw." The smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) is the only species found in Florida waters. There are five sawfish species that exist worldwide.
A magnificent creature, sawfish are considered culturally important in some places around the world, as a symbol of strength, spirituality, and admiration.
Smalltooth sawfish swim like sharks but are actually a type of ray. In part because their gill slits are on the bottom of their bodies, like stingrays.
They have a characteristic long, flattened, toothed rostrum (often referred to as the "saw") and a flattened head and trunk.
What we know
Although there is still a lot to learn about the smalltooth sawfish, they can grow very large, up to 17 feet long and 700 pounds. They have 21 to 30 unpaired teeth on each side of the rostrum (saw). Males tend to have more rostral teeth than females.
If the teeth are lost completely, they do not grow back. But if the teeth are only chipped and their bases are intact, they continue to grow along with the sawfish.
Smalltooth sawfish of all sizes feed on fishes such as mullet and rays. Using the rostrum (saw) to slash through schools of fish, stunning them before they feed.
Smalltooth sawfish in Florida waters give birth primarily in April and May. Females can give birth to approximately 7–14 young measuring 2 to 2.7 feet long. Their calcified teeth have tissue covering to prevent injury to siblings and the mother. After about two weeks it disappears so the young sawfish can feed and defend themselves.
Juvenile smalltooth sawfish most often inhabit brackish water close to land. In a wide range of habitats, such as mud bottoms, sand bottoms, oyster bars, red mangrove shorelines, seawall-lined canals, and near piers. Whereas larger smalltooth sawfish, longer than 10 feet, are generally seen in deeper coastal waters with muddy bottoms.
What to do if you see one!
Once a common sight off of Florida's coastline. They became rarer over the last century because of overfishing. Their long saws get easily entangled in fishing gear and their rostrums were also popular trophy items.
The species came close to extinction in the late 1990s, but since 1992, has been protected from harvest in Florida. And have been on the endangered list under the Endangered Species Act since 2003. Plus, protected from international trade since 2007 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
A smalltooth sawfish if accidentally caught, must be promptly released unharmed!
If you see a sawfish: anglers, divers, and boaters are please Report Sawfish Sightings for Science to
Jupiter Dive Center has a series of exploration dives scheduled!
You need to add to your bucket list!!