Tuesday, January 24, 2017

En Busca del Pez Sierra en Costa Rica

Mario Espinoza y Jorge Valerio
Centro de Investigación en Ciencias del Mar y Limnología & Escuela de Biología,
Universidad de Costa Rica, 11501-2060 San José, Costa Rica



Nuestro proyecto “En Busca del Pez Sierra en Costa Rica” inició a finales de 2015 como una iniciativa de la Universidad de Costa Rica, en conjunto con Conservación Internacional y Misión Tiburón, dos Organizaciones No Gubernamentales. Este proyecto pretende impulsar una estrategia para la conservación del Pez Sierra en Costa Rica, y eventualmente extenderse a otros países de Centro América. Debido a que las poblaciones de Pez Sierra de Centro América han sufrido grandes reducciones producto de la sobrepesca y destrucción de los hábitats, resulta crucial identificar sitios en Costa Rica donde aún se encuentre esta especie. También es importante determinar las principales amenazas que afectan su sobrevivencia. Solo así se podrán desarrollar mejores medidas de manejo y conservación que permitan asegurar el futuro de esta especie tan amenazada.

Esta estrategia de conservación tan importante tiene dos objetivos principales: (1) evaluar la situación actual del Pez Sierra en Costa Rica; y (2) educar y concientizar a la población costarricense acerca de la importancia de proteger al Pez Sierra, principalmente a través de charlas, talleres y el uso de redes sociales.  El éxito de este proyecto depende de que diversos sectores de la población conozcan más a fondo a esta especie, su importancia ecológica, amenazas, y estado de conservación. Solo así se podrá asegurar la viabilidad de la especie a largo plazo.

Captura reciente de Pez Sierra (Pristis pristis) en Boca Tapada de San Carlos, Zona Norte de Costa Rica (marzo 2016).

Divulgación del proyecto a niñas y niños de centros educativos.
El proyecto también está generando información ecológica muy importante que permitirá evaluar la situación actual del Pez Sierra en el país. Por ejemplo, mediante el apoyo de Rufford Foundation hemos realizado un gran número de entrevistas a pescadores y miembros de comunidades costeras y rivereñas, lo cual nos ha dado una muy buena idea de la distribución histórica y reciente del Pez Sierra para Costa Rica. Estos esfuerzos se han enfocado en zonas costeras del Pacífico Norte (Cuajiniquil y Puerto Soley), Pacífico Central (Puntarenas, Golfo de Nicoya, Tárcoles), Pacífico Sur (Humedal Nacional Térreba Sierpe) y varios de los ríos de la Zona Norte (Boca San Carlos y Boca Tapada), cerca de la frontera con Nicaragua.  La gran ayuda de la gente durante el proceso de entrevistas ha sido invaluable para el éxito del proyecto.  El Pez Sierra, al ser un animal casi mítico, genera mucha curiosidad e interés en la gente.  A los más viejos, las entrevistas les trae gratos recuerdos de aquellos tiempos en los que tuvieron la suerte de ver o capturar un pez de tan extraña apariencia.  Es gracias a esa ayuda que hemos logrado recopilar información muy valiosa acerca de la distribución del Pez Sierra y las principales amenazas que afectan su sobrevivencia, particularmente en sitios cientos de kilómetros tierra adentro en la zona norte del país.

Las entrevistas realizadas hasta ahora demuestran que las principales amenazas del Pez Sierra en Costa Rica han sido y continúan siendo la pesca con trasmallos, la destrucción de los ecosistemas costeros y ribereños, y el cambio climático que ha afectado los caudales de los ríos.  La distribución histórica del Pez Sierra fue mucho más amplia de lo que esperábamos, siendo una especie muy común en muchos ecosistemas costeros y ribereños en ambas costas y zona norte de Costa Rica, mientras que su distribución actual parece que se ha reducido a unos pocos sitios del país.  Los pocos registros recientes de la especie (<2 años) se concentran en la vertiente norte (límite con Nicaragua) y en el Humedal Nacional Térraba Sierpe en el Pacífico sur; información necesaria para iniciar la fase de expediciones de campo.  Las entrevistas también nos han ayudado a evaluar la percepción de la gente hacia esta especie tan importante, así como identificar las posibles amenazas que afectan o han afectado históricamente la salud de sus poblaciones.

En 2017 comenzaremos la búsqueda del Pez Sierra en sitios que hemos identificado, a través de entrevistas y observaciones, como sitios importantes para la especie.  Tanto IDEAWILD y Rufford Foundation han colaborado con equipo y algunos fondos que nos permitirán realizar algunas expediciones.  Además, queremos aplicar otras técnicas más novedosas, como el uso de ADN-ambiental, una técnica capaz de detectar rastros de esta especie en muestras de agua tomadas del ecosistema. 

El Pez Sierra aún se encuentra en Costa Rica, pero su futuro es incierto. ¡Ayúdenos a salvar al Pez Sierra, seamos todos parte de esta gran iniciativa!

Puedes leer una versión en inglés de esta blog post aquí: 
http://sawfishconservationsociety.blogspot.ie/2017/01/looking-for-sawfish-in-costa-rica.html

Looking for Sawfish in Costa Rica

By Mario Espinoza & Jorge Valerio

Center for Research in Marine Sciences and Limnology & Biology School, Universidad de Costa Rica, 11501-2060 San José, Costa Rica.

Our project “Looking for Sawfish in Costa Rica” started late 2015, as an initiative of the Universidad de Costa Rica, in collaboration with Conservation International and “Misión Tiburón”, two local Non-Governmental Organizations. The project aims to promote a National Sawfish Conservation Strategy, which could eventually expand to other countries in Central America.  Given global declines of Sawfish populations due to overfishing and habitat degradation and/or loss, its crucial to identify sites in Costa Rica that may still hold a viable population.  It is also crucial to identify the main threats affecting their survival.  This will be essential to develop effective management and conservation strategies that may ensure the future of Sawfish.
 

This important conservation strategy has two main goals: (1) evaluate the current conservation status of Sawfish in Costa Rica; (2) educate and raise awareness to Costa Ricans about the importance of protecting Sawfish, mainly through talks, workshops, and the use of social media.  The success of this project will depend on the degree of awareness of Costa Ricans towards Sawfish, the ecological role this species play in aquatic ecosystems, major threats affecting their survival, and their conservation status.  Only then we may ensure a brighter future for the species.
Project outreach is being conducted in primary and secondary schools.

The information gathered through the interviews done so far demonstrate that in Costa Rica the Sawfish main threats continue to be fishing nets, habitat destruction, and climate change which has affected river discharges and water temperature. Its historical distribution was much broader than what we expected, being a very common species in many riverine and coastal ecosystems in both shores and in the north part of the country, while its current distribution appears to be more restricted to only a few sites. Recent sightings (<2 years) of Sawfish are concentrated at two main sites: (1) the north of Costa Rica, near the Nicaraguan border; and (2) the “Humedal Nacional Térraba Sierpe”, one of the most important wetland of Central America, located in the South Pacific.  Information on the distribution of this species is necessary to continue with the next phase of the project, which includes field expeditions. Interviews have also served to evaluate people’s perception of this important species and to identify the main threats that affect the health of their populations. 

Recent Sawfish (Pristis pristis) capture in Boca Tapada, San Carlos, northern part of Costa Rica (March 2016).
In 2017, we will start the search for Sawfish in sites previously identified from local interviews as hotspots for the species. This will be possible thanks to the support of IDEA WILD and the Rufford Foundation, as well as our local partners (Conservación Internacional and Misión Tiburón). Besides the ecological surveys, we are also planning to use environmental DNA (e-DNA), a novel technique capable of detecting DNA traces from water samples taken from the environment.

Sawfish are still present in Costa Rica, but their future is uncertain. Help us save our Sawfish! Together we can make a difference!


A Spanish version of this blog post is available at: http://sawfishconservationsociety.blogspot.ie/2017/01/en-busca-del-pez-sierra-en-costa-rica.html

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Endangered Species Act Five-year Review and Recovery Plan Updates for US Smalltooth Sawfish, Pristis pectinata.



By Tonya Wiley-Lescher (Haven Worth Consulting)

The United States distinct population segment (DPS) of Smalltooth Sawfish (Pristis pectinata) was classified as Endangered under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2003. Recently I was contracted by NOAA Fisheries (National Marine Fisheries Service) to draft two key documents regarding the US population of Smalltooth Sawfish. 

The first document is an ESA 5-year review. To monitor recovery efforts and ongoing threats to the species, the ESA requires the status of the species be assessed through regular 5-year reviews. A 5-year review is an analysis conducted to determine if the current listing classification under the ESA is still accurate. The first review was completed in 2010 and, based on criteria established in the recovery plan, determined the species still warranted protections afforded by an Endangered classification. Our scientific knowledge of the species has grown considerably since then. So I am compiling all we have learned about this species of sawfish in the US, to determine if any recovery goals have been met. The second ESA 5-year review will, again, determine if the listing classification of Endangered under the ESA is still appropriate.

The second document is an updated Recovery Plan. A recovery plan for the US DPS of Smalltooth Sawfish was published in 2009 detailing goals and actions necessary to meet identified recovery criteria. Recovery plans serve as road maps for species recovery - they lay out where we need to go and how best to get there. Changes to the recovery plan, including revised recovery goals and criteria, are also underway. Updating the plan, and the recovery criteria it contains, will help scientists and managers work toward restoring the sawfish population in the US to the point where it is a secure part of its ecosystem and protections under the ESA are no longer needed. The US Smalltooth Sawfish Implementation Team will meet in April 2016 to finalize the updated plan and submit it to NOAA Fisheries to be reviewed and published. 
Tonya releasing a Smalltooth Sawfish pup.

To ensure these documents are based on the best available scientific and commercial data, public comments regarding US Smalltooth Sawfish can be submitted until March 22, 2016. I will be presenting the results of the second 5-year review and the updated recovery plan at the Biology and Ecology of Sawfishes symposium at the American Elasmobranch Society meeting in New Orleans this July. 

For more information on smalltooth sawfish, the Endangered Species Act, and US recovery efforts visit http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/protected_resources/sawfish/index.html


Monday, March 14, 2016

Team Sawfish: the extreme highs and lows of 2015

Team Sawfish’s 2015 was a year of extremes, not only for us researchers, but also for the sawfishes we study in Western Australia. Beginning the year with one of the driest wet seasons in the last 15 years, we knew we were likely to find low water levels and few young of the year sawfish, but we could not have imagined what surprises, good and bad, were in store for us.


Team Sawfish 2015. Dr David Morgan not pictured. Photo: Jeff Whitty

Our adventures began in early August, the early dry season, in the lower estuarine pools of the Fitzroy River. This time of the year is often ideal as the days are warm, nights are cool and rain is absent. By August, river discharge has fallen and the once flowing river is transformed into a chain of isolated pools. The small amount of river flow that remains and the relatively cold air temperatures keep the estuarine pools fresh and cool, with only the occasional spike in salt when the tidal waters intrude from nearby King Sound.  

The lower estuarine pool where we captured Dwarf Sawfish in August 2015. Photo: Jeff Whitty
 
During this early dry season excursion, we set out to continue our research on the Largetooth (Freshwater) Sawfish. However, the sawfish had other plans, as only Dwarf Sawfish, a marine species, were present. One after another, these fish filled our nets, an unusual occurrence for any sawfish species. We were not only surprised by the presence and numbers of the Dwarf Sawfish, but also by the salinity levels of the water, which were unusually high, being close to that of sea water, and the likely reason for the presence of the Dwarf Sawfish.

Knowing to never let a good opportunity pass us by, we decided to make lemon-aid from this lemon of a situation and tagged these Dwarf Sawfish with acoustic transmitters; a project (in collaboration with CSIRO) that was not due to start until October. This opportunity allowed for us to commence our study early, and collect months of data that we would have otherwise missed out on.  After deploying all of the tags that we had with us at the time, we departed with plans to continue to take advantage of this situation during our next field trip.

A Dwarf Sawfish tagged and released by Team Sawfish in the Fitzroy River in 2015. Photo: David Morgan

Returning in September, we once again were successful in finding large numbers of Dwarf Sawfish, at one point catching eleven within a single hour. Other fishers were also reporting unusual captures of marine fishes within the lower regions of the river, including hammerhead (likely Winghead) and Blacktip Sharks. We even had a surprise catch of our own. While fishing in the estuarine pools, we were ecstatic to catch the first ever Green Sawfish to be recorded within the Fitzroy River! Although we have observed Green Sawfish to use river mouths as nurseries, captures of this species in the King Sound are rare. 

Dr David Morgan with the Green Sawfish. Photo: James Keleher

Moving our efforts to the freshwater pools further upriver, we resumed our search for the Largetooth Sawfish. Despite high levels of effort, we encountered relatively few sawfish, a common trend over the last few years (likely due to the short wet seasons that have occurred during the same period). As the wet season size dictates the depth of the river, it also dictates how many sawfish can make their way to the safety and stability of the freshwater pools, and how many young of the year are recruited into the riverine nursery. As this dry spell has lasted several years, the only Largetooth Sawfish we observed in 2015 were those pupped in 2011. 

A sawfish cake. One of the few Largetooth Sawfish we saw on this trip.

In early December, our team found itself on the river once again, but this time amongst an unfortunate situation. Our team was informed by local residents that there had been a large die-off of sawfish and Bull Sharks in the upper reaches of the Fitzroy River.

Upon arriving at the site, the stench of death filled our noses and swarms of flies covered our faces. With the help of the locals, we recovered 12 Largetooth Sawfish, 8 Bull Sharks and a Whiptail Stingray, while also observing deceased catfish, cherabin (crayfish) and thousands of mussels floating on the surface of the water. Even arriving only a couple days after the deaths of the fishes, the now extreme heat and local scavengers had started to break down their bodies, making any autopsy and sampling of these animals near impossible. Despite the conditions, we collected what salvageable information we could, to ensure that this tragedy was not a total waste. 

Some of the Largetooth Sawfish and Bull Sharks killed by the low dissolved oxygen event in December. Photo: Jeff Whitty

Unable to determine the cause of death from the animals themselves, we turned to the environment to see if there was any evidence to suggest what happened. We deployed multiple sensors throughout the entirety of the affected pool to detect any abnormalities in the temperature, oxygen levels and pH of the water column; it was not long before we had identified the silent killer. There was very little oxygen below a depth of 1 meter and no oxygen below 2 m in this 10+ m deep pool. From interviews with local residents, we learned that a small rain event had washed oxygen-hungry organic matter into the pool. Without the additional input of freshwater, this organic sludge became concentrated within the single pool and likely absorbed the dissolved oxygen in the water, killing all bottom dwelling species. Similar occurrences have taken place in other seasonally flowing rivers in Australia but thankfully, residents said that this is a rare event in the Fitzroy River.

All in all, 2015 was an eventful year for the sawfishes of the Fitzroy River and Team Sawfish. Although we faced an number of unfortunate events, these unusual occurrences provided us with insight into how changes to the climate and environment can impact various species of sawfishes. As we move on to a new year of research, we are hoping to find a long and rainy wet season and a new batch of young of the year sawfish awaiting for us around the riverbend.




For more information about Team Sawfish and our work, please visit www.freshwaterfishgroup.com or like our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Freshwater-Fish-Group-Fish-Health-Unit-342655079102312/?fref=ts. We would like to thank the Western Australia Marine Science Institute, Chevron Australia and CSIRO for funding these projects.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

First Nation-Wide Survey Shows Hope for Sawfishes in Mexico


Stage I of the first-ever survey for sawfishes in Mexico (and in fact, the first research project ever devoted to this threatened group of fishes in the country) was just completed by Océanos Vivientes casting a grey shadow on the outlook for sawfish conservation in the country… But a new ray of hope just emerged!

Personnel of Project Pristis Mexico interviewing fishermen 
during the nation-wide survey.
Through its “Project Pristis Mexico” (Proyecto Pristis México in Spanish), personnel of Océanos Vivientes, a Mexican NGO devoted to the research and conservation of sharks and rays, visited 71 fishing locations along the Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean coasts of Mexico. During a survey that involved driving over 10,500 km and talking to over 800 fishermen, Océanos Vivientes interviewed more than 250 fishermen who had witnessed encounters with either the smalltooth (Pristis pectinata) or largetooth (P. pristis) sawfishes.


“The results of the first stage of this project offered a worrying panorama for sawfish conservation” stated Ramón Bonfil, Executive Director of Océanos Vivientes, and PI of Project Pristis Mexico. “Most fishermen reported never having seen a sawfish dead or alive, and those who had were mostly old fishermen on the 60-70 year old range, an indication of how long ago sawfishes became rare in Mexico” he added. However the most worrying result was that the scientists could not find substantiated reports of live specimens anywhere in the country. A small number of fishermen on both coasts reported having seen sawfishes either a few months or a few years ago, but there was no way to scientifically confirm these claims (such as photographs).

Océanos Vivientes scientists measuring a sawfish rostrum.

Despite this gloomy outlook, Océanos Vivientes remained hopeful that somewhere, someone would report a live specimen through the communications network they had built during the four months they spent in the field. “Our hopes and hard work were rewarded yesterday morning, when the first confirmed report of a live smalltooth sawfish came to us through a phone call from a fisherman”, Bonfil remarked. 

Fisherman reading information poster distributed by Océanos Vivientes
throughout the country.

The first smalltooth sawfish seen in Mexico since 2005 (the team's interview surveys confirmed that the last report of this species in Mexican waters was caught in Tamaulipas state in 2005) was accidentally caught in a snook gillnet in the State of Veracruz by fisherman Constantino Correa, who swiftly reported the finding to Océanos Vivientes. The sawfish, a juvenile female 1.54 m long, was kept alive, measured and photographed by the fisherman, and the information they collected was sent to the scientists. This was made possible thanks to the grassroots work that Océanos Vivientes has carried out around the country in recent months. “This important finding means that there are still a few sawfish in Mexico and that we must intensify efforts to protect them and help their populations recover and be again as plentiful as they were 60 years ago” said Bonfil. 

The female smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) found alive in Veracruz
state.
The discovery of this sawfish is an event of enormous significance for the conservation outlook of sawfishes. It crowns the efforts that Project Pristis Mexico has devoted over the last 6 months, and shows that contrary to previous assumptions, sawfish are still present in Mexico. However, it is likely that they are very close to local extinction, which means that both government and society at large need to rapidly increase efforts and make more resources available for the conservation and protection of sawfishes in Mexico. Having definitive evidence that there are still sawfish living in Mexico means there is still a chance that wild populations could be adequately protected and brings hope for their long-term recovery.

Personnel from the Veracruz Aquarium collected the juvenile sawfish and took it to their facilities where it is still in recovery and under observation. It is hoped that a properly planned captive reproduction program can be developed in the future (once a male of the species is found and brought to the same aquarium).

The second stage of Project Pristis Mexico, to be launched as soon as new grants are obtained, plans to expand surveys to other parts of the country and locations that could not be visited before. However the most important new aims are to actively look for sawfishes in specific locations identified through Stage I of the project, launch a tracking program using satellite tags, and involve the fishing communities in the protection of sawfishes and their coastal habitats in order to guarantee the recovery of the populations. 

Dr. Ramón Bonfil giving an environmental education talk about sawfishes
to a group of fishermen.


For more information visit Proyecto Pristis Mexico Facebook page at  https://www.facebook.com/ProyectoPristisMexico/.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Sawfish research in Mexico, Central and South America

By Ruth H. Leeney

Two sawfish species – the smalltooth and largetooth sawfishes (Pristis pectinata and P. pristis) – are known to have occurred historically in Caribbean and Central American (Atlantic) coastal seas, whilst only the largetooth sawfish is known from the eastern Pacific. The current status of sawfishes in the waters of Mexico, Central America and the west coast of South America is poorly understood. Until recently, little up-to-date information was available from these regions but happily, since 2014, numerous research projects have developed to address these data gaps. Many of these projects are multi-country collaborative efforts, which facilitates the sharing of resources and expertise. In my role as Sawfish Conservation Coordinator for the IUCN Shark Specialist Group, I recently compiled information about the sawfish research projects underway in Mexico, Mesoamerica and South America, and put the various researchers and teams involved in contact with each other where necessary. The information I received from teams working on sawfish projects is summarised below, but if you are working on sawfishes in these regions and don’t see your project mentioned here, please do get in touch!
Image from extremecoast.com

In Mexico, Océanos Vivientes AC is conducting a nationwide survey of historical and current presence of sawfishes, in order to evaluate the conservation status of sawfishes in Mexico. The team hopes to work towards a change in Mexican legislation relating to sawfishes. Océanos Vivientes is also collaborating with Conservation International to develop sawfish research in Colombia.

MarAlliance is working in Belize, Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras and on the Caribbean coast of Mexico. Their work on sawfishes is part of a broader programme which involves working closely with fishing communities to monitor marine megafauna, especially elasmobranchs. They hope to assess the current existence of sawfishes in each of their study regions, document historical occurrence, distribution and local uses of sawfishes, and identify strategies to encourage the recovery of any remaining sawfish populations.

A largetooth sawfish (c. 5.6 m total length) captured off northern Peru, and released alive, in
February 2015.
In Peru, Planeta Océano launched a sawfish research programme in early 2015, in collaboration with my organisation, Protect Africa's Sawfishes. This involved a short training programme covering aspects of sawfish ecology and conservation, as well as interview methods for assessing the status of sawfish populations. The training course attracted participants not only from Peru but also from Ecuador and Colombia. Following the training, course participants and Planeta Océano staff conducted interviews at numerous fishing ports and landings sites in northern Peru, and interviews will be conducted further south, later this year. Very recent captures of largetooth sawfish have occurred in northern Peru, including one adult caught and released alive in February 2015. Planeta Océano has also built collaborative links with teams in Ecuador, El Salvador and Costa Rica, supporting them to collect data on sawfishes using similar methods, and developing community awareness activities and educational materials on sawfishes, to be used throughout the region. Planeta Océanos’ collaborators at the Universidad Laica Eloy Alfaro de Manabí (Ecuador), led by Dr. Rigoberto Rosas-Luis, have already conducted 429 interviews with fishermen throughout Ecuador. The most recent capture of a sawfish there was in 2014, in San Lorenzo, northern Ecuador. 
 
Dr. Rosas-Luis interviewing fish vendors in northern Peru.


Fundación Talking Oceans and the Smithsonian Institution is conducting sawfish research in Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador. They aim to assess the current distribution and conservation status of sawfishes in the ETP, as part of a wider project to identify and map elasmobranch critical habitats and assess MPA effectiveness. Fundación Talking Oceans are working with a number of collaborators including Marviva, WWF, USAID-BIOREDD, Universidad de Costa Rica, Playa Tortuga, Malangwai, SINAC, PRETOMA, Universidad de Panama, ARAP, Planeta Océano and NAZCA. 

Juliana Lopez Angarita and a fisherman with a sawfish rostrum from a market in Costa Rica. Photograph (c) Alex Tilley.
Central and South America are also key regions for sawfish conservation for one particular reason – the cock-fighting industry. Cock-fighting is a very popular pastime in many Central and South American countries, and since the mid-1970s, sawfish rostral teeth have been the preferred source of ‘spurs’ – the sharp spikes which owners attach to the feet of their bird in order to inflict damage on the opponent. Concern has grown within the cock-fighting industry as sawfish rostra have become more difficult to obtain and the price of rostral teeth has increased significantly. However, some cock-fighting associations are now working to ban the use of spurs made from rostral material and to encourage the use of artificial spurs. In Peru, Planeta Océano is conducting interviews with members of these associations, in order to assess the frequency with which sawfish teeth are still used as spurs and to better understand how cock-fighting associations can encourage their members to use alternative materials. There may be the potential to develop outreach materials that can be used throughout the Americas in countries where cock-fighting is popular, in order to minimise any further threat to sawfishes via the demand for rostral teeth. 


Cock-fighting spurs made from plastic composites.
The collaborative nature of sawfish research in this region is a wonderful example of how, through communication and sharing of resources, numerous small research projects can result in effective data collection and better geographic cover. This collaborative approach is also creating links between NGOs, researchers and government organisations which will enable a smoother transition to the next, equally important phase of this work: developing a regional conservation strategy for sawfishes, in line with the IUCN’s Global Sawfish Conservation Strategy (Harrison & Dulvy 2014). Exciting times for sawfish research and conservation in the Americas!

Many thanks to all the researchers who provided details of their projects for this article, and to the many funders supporting this much-needed work. 
This article first appeared in the IUCN SSG's newsletter, 10th November 2015. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Become a sawfish researcher for a day!

The Sawfish Conservation Society (SCS) is partnering with researchers from around the world to launch the See A Saw Citizen Science Sawfish Project in order to better understand the highly threatened sawfishes, and you can help!

The See a Saw program and its instructional video can be found at www.sawfishconservationsociety.org

Sawfish numbers have greatly declined in the last 100 years due to fishing and habitat modification and now these fishes are close to becoming extinct. Sawfishes are often caught accidentally, but sometimes fishers kill these animals or cut off their saws to detangle them from nets/fishing lines or to collect a souvenir of their catch. If a sawfish is released alive after its saw has been removed it is unlikely to survive, as it is depends on its saw for hunting and for protecting itself from predators.

Saws from sawfish can be easily entangled in fishing lines and nets. 

Today, sawfish are protected in a large and increasing number of countries, and it is now illegal to harm sawfish, which includes removing their saw, in these countries. In addition, international trading, and in some countries, domestic trading of removed saws is also illegal.

Although the removal of sawfish saws has negatively impacted sawfish, researchers have discovered how to turn this negative into a positive and can use previously collected saws to gain important information on sawfish, which can then be used to conserve the remaining populations of sawfish. This can be very useful as old sawfish saws are easier to find and work with then live sawfish.


A pile of saws collected from fishers, which are being used to better understand the rare and threatened sawfishes.

Recent research has shown that it is possible to identify the species, size and occasionally the sex of a sawfish from its saw. In addition, researchers are now able to extract  DNA from old sawfish saws, which can be used to gather important information about the genetic health and other aspects of the different sawfish populations.  

Scientists are now taking their research one step further and are looking at regional differences between these saws to see if the measurements and tissue samples from these saws can be used to determine where saws come from and how populations have changed through time.

Please measure, take a photograph (as shown above) and report your old sawfish saw to the SCS.
To do this, researchers need a large number of saws from throughout the world and they have asked us at the SCS to reach out to you to help them with this important and large task. Specifically, researchers are asking for you to measure, photograph and report any sawfish saws that you may have. However, it is important to note that you should not hurt a sawfish to obtain this information, nor should you try to obtain this information from a live sawfish. Data collected from this project will not only benefit the current studies, but will also be made available to future research as well.

The Sea a Saw program webpage
If you are interested in becoming a sawfish scientist for a day, please visit our website (www.sawfishconservationsociety.org) and follow the links for the “See a Saw” program. On the webpage you will find multiple links that will take you to the instructions on how to take part in this program, the necessary data sheets and other important information. Please make sure to read all instructions and the disclaimer before you measure and/or photograph your saw.

Updates will be posted on the SCS website as this program progresses, so make sure to check back to look for these updates.

We are looking forward to working with you all and appreciate any information you can provide. Thank you for your help in better understanding these incredible and endangered fishes.