Sawfish on the brink of extinction, gone in over half its natural habitats

Habitat loss and overfishing are to blame.

Andrew Koay | February 16, 2021, 01:43 PM

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One of the most unique creatures in ocean could be on the brink of extinction according to a new study.

The sawfish — instantly recognisable for its long narrow nose resembling a chain saw — was once found in the warm coastal waters of 90 different countries.

Now, according to researchers at Canada's Simon Frasier University, it is presumed extinct in 46 of those countries including China, Japan, and Brunei.

At least one species is missing in 18 countries and 28 countries are missing two species, wrote researchers in a study published in Science Advances.

Citing the the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the study wrote that three of the five sawfish species are considered critically endangered, while the other two are endangered.

Loss of habitat and fishing

The main threats to the sawfish — which is actually a type of ray —  are habitat loss and entanglement of their 'saws' in fishing nets.

Their fins are also among the most valuable in the global shark fin trade as a celebratory dish in some Asian cultures.

Furthermore sawfish's nose are often sold as curios or medicine.

One of the study's authors told Simon Frasier University that complete extinction of the sawfish was possible if nothing was done to curb overfishing and to protect its threatened habitats.

"Through the plight of sawfish, we are documenting the first cases of a wide-ranging marine fish being driven to local extinction by overfishing," said Nicholas Dulvy.

Conservation efforts

The researchers recommended international conservation efforts to focus on Cuba, Tanzania, Columbia, Madagascar, Panama, Brazil, Mexico, and Sri Lanka.

On the other hand, Australia and the United States were noted as "lifeboat nations" for the sawfish, because of the presence of adequate protections.

Helen Yan, another of the study's authors, expressed optimism that it was possible for sawfish populations to be returned to 70 per cent of its historical range, "if we act now".

Top image by David Clode via Unsplash

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