Sawfish Tagged on Florida’s Gulf Coast Was Huge When Recaptured on State’s East Coast

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Sawfish are considered “supernatural beings” by some tribal societies, so it’s fitting that one tagged off Florida’s Gulf Coast resurfaced on the opposite side of the state — with a stunning transformation.

“This sawfish had more than doubled in total length from about 5 feet, to over 12 feet!” the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute reported in an Oct. 17 Facebook post.

The growth spurt occurred between 2016 and 2022 and was revealed by a state program tracking the movements of the endangered species notorious for having a saw for a nose that can reach 4.5 feet in length.

Eight hundred smalltooth sawfish have been tagged by the state since Februrary 2005, and most have not been seen again.

That’s what makes the recently recovered sawfish such a big deal. It was originally tagged in west Florida’s Caloosahatchee River and found again in September, in east Florida’s St. Lucie River, the institute says.

So far, fewer than 10 of the 800 tagged sawfish have been tracked from the state’s west coast to the east coast, according to Gregg Poulakis, a research associate with the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

“We only have a few recaptures years after initial tagging, so those long-term recaptures help us learn about growth rates,” Poulakis told McClatchy News.

“Every sawfish we tag is important for learning about this endangered species. They’re all pieces of a puzzle that help us promote recovery.”

Smalltooth sawfish are a type of ray known to reach 17 feet in length and 700 pounds, experts say. The biggest measured so far by the institute was a 16-foot female that washed up dead in the Florida Keys. She was developing 21 eggs in her ovaries at the time, Poulakis said.

Like sharks, sawfish have amazing healing abilities. However, their saw will not grow back if removed.

“Many years ago, it was common for sawfish saws to be cut off and saved for curiosities. Today, due to the protected status and lots of outreach effort, most people know not to do this,” Poulakis said.

“However, we do still see evidence that it still happens. It’s important for people to know that the saw does not grow back.”

The historic range for smalltooth sawfish is from Texas to the Carolinas, but “the core of the population currently lives in the warm waters along the Florida coast,” according to the National Park Service.

There are five species of sawfish across the world and “tribal societies in Central America, West Africa, Australia, and Papua New Guinea consider sawfish supernatural beings that bring energy for renewal and prosperity,” the FWC reports.

Source: Miami Herald