Pristis pectinata enjoys a suite of names in languages as disparate as Sindhi, Wolof, Mandarin, Swedish and Somali (Read more: Common Names). Though it was once a common species in tropical waters around the globe, its habitat is now reduced by 90 percent.
The species is part of a group of cartilaginous fishes known as elasmobranchs, which includes sharks, skates and rays (NOAA n.d.). With its elongated body, dorsal fins and flat underbelly, the smalltooth sawfish looks like a shark when seen from above. From below, it resembles a ray with its ventral mouth, gills and flattened pectoral fins(Hill 2006). When they are born, juveniles measure about two feet (around 60 cm) in body length. By the time they reach maturity at about 10 years, they can grow to 18 ft (5.5 m) on average, and some individuals have even been found at 25 ft (7 m) in length (Simpfendorfer 2005). Their defining feature, a rostrum that resembles a saw blade, bears 24-32 teeth and constitutes a quarter of the body length.
The elongated rostrum is thought to serve several functions. There are no known directed studies of P. pectinata feeding habits, but they are thought to prey on benthic crustaceans and small schooling fish such as mullets and clupeids(Strickland 2009). When feeding, P. pectinata slash sideways through schools of fish, impaling fish on the teeth along the edges of the blade-like rostrum. The fish are then scraped off and eaten by rubbing the rostrum on a substrate and then gulping the fish whole It is thought the rostrum is also used to stir up sediments and flick out crustaceans (Hill 2006) (Strickland 2009).
The rostrum has also gotten the species in trouble. In the early 20th century, the blade-like rostra became trophies for recreational fishermen. Sawfish also got their rostra entangled in lines and nets, becoming prey to commercial fisheries (Hill 2006). In 2000 the smalltooth sawfish was listed as Critically Endangered under the IUCN (Adams, et al. 2006), and Endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2003 (Strickland 2009). It is thought to be completely extinct from the Mediterranean Sea and Northeast Atlantic (Adams, et al. 2006).
There are few records of sawfish population distribution in U.S. waters, but museum specimens and anecdotal evidence from fishermen indicate it was once widespread in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico from Texas all the way to New York. Today, the range of the smalltooth sawfish has shrunk to cover only the Everglades region in the southern tip of Florida (NOAA n.d.)(Strickland 2009) (Read more: Trends and Threats).
Adams, W.F., S.L. Fowler, P. Charvet-Almeida, V. Faria, J. Soto, and M. Furtado. "Pristis pectinata." Vers. 2010.2. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2006. www.iucnredlist.org (accessed August 25 2010).
Hill, K. "Pristis pectinata." Smithsonian Marine Station. July 25, 2006. http://www.sms.si.edu/IRLSpec/Pristi_pectin.htm (accessed August 2010).
NOAA. Smalltooth Sawfish (Pristis pectinata). Office of Protected Resources. http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/fish/smalltoothsawfish.htm (accessed August 2010).
Simpfendorfer, C.A. 2005. "Threatened fishes of the world: Pristis pectinata Latham, 1794 (Pristidae)." Environmental Biology of Fishes 73, no. 20.
Strickland, Thomas L. "Critical Habitat for the Endangered Distinct Population Segment of Smalltooth Sawfish." Federal Register. Vol. 74. no. 169. National Marine Fisheries Service, August 27, 2009.
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