October 17 is International Sawfish Day!
What do you do at Mote?
I'm the MarSci-LACE Project Coordinator, where I run a program dedicated to researching best practices for recruiting, supporting and retaining minority students in marine science.
How many types of sawfish are there? And what kind of fish is a sawfish exactly?
There are five species of sawfish worldwide, and all are considered Endangered or Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN, iucnredlist.org). They inhabit tropical and coastal waters, including estuaries. We are lucky enough here in Florida to be able to find the smalltooth sawfish in our coastal waters, which is proteted by state and federal law.
Sawfish are actually a type of ray, which means they belong to the elasmobranch group that includes rays, skates, and sharks! Sawfish have gills on their underside, just like a ray. They get their name from their saw-shaped snout, called a rostrum.
Do you have a favorite species of sawfish?
The smalltooth sawfish will always have a special place in my heart.
What is some of the sawfish research you've worked on?
In collaboration with the Sawfish Recovery Team, I am working on a project to understand where the critically endangered smalltooth sawfish spends a lot of its time in an effort to better protect them. I am interested in understanding how, when and to where they move throughout the year because it is important to protect these areas. I also want to identify areas where the sawfish have a high probability of interacting with commercial fisheries because accidental catches in fisheries is another major threat they face in addition to habitat loss. This sawfish research has been supported by Save Our Seas Foundation, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program and Disney Conservation Fund.
Something that surprised you when working with sawfish?
I'm always surprised by how strong they are and how fast they can swing their saw.
What are the threats facing sawfish?
Sawfish take a long time to mature and don't have very many pups per year. This, coupled with habitat loss, bycatch and historic exploitation, means that for a long time we were loosing sawfish faster than the sawfish could replace themselves.
Why should we care about the plight of the sawfish?
Sawfish are a group of animals that are very unique. If form follows function, the sawfish are likely able to do something unique or have a unique role in the ecosystem. Many times we don't find out about how vital a species is until we loose it. We've already lost one species of sawfish in the United States (largetooth sawfish) and I think it is important to keep our last remaining species around.
How can people help sawfish?
People can push for legislation that offers continued protection for endangered species and areas important to sawfish such as Everglades National Park. You can also help limit marine debris and pollution. Most importantly, if you ever encounter a sawfish, please report it at 1-844-4sawfish or online at www.sawfishrecovery.org. Respect the sawfish and never harass or harm them. All sawfish are protected by the Endangered Species Act, and are protected by state and federal regulations.
Wanna hear more?
Listen to an episode of Mote's podcast, Two Sea Fans, to hear more from Jasmin about her sawfish research, the MarSci-LACE program, and why #BlackinMarineScience should be on your calendar.
Infographic from International Sawfish Day: