Ocean News

Sawfish Snouts Are Multifunction Tools

6th March 2012

Sawfish are some of the most distinct – and most critically endangered – fish in the world. Also known as carpenter sharks, sawfish are actually a type of ray, characterized by a long saw-like snout for which the animals have historically been targeted for, often selling for thousands of dollars as "trophies".

Though it resembles a saw, the sawfish’s snout is actually a complex multifunctional organ. Scientists have previously discovered that it serves as a sensory organ, detecting the electrical fields given off by other animals. Now, new research done by scientists in Australia has shown it to be a complete hunting weapon. As Barbara Wueringer of the University of Queensland, the leader of the research team, puts it:

"I like to call it an antenna and a weapon, because that’s what it is – it helps them to find the prey, but then also to kill it."

Once they locate their prey, Sawfish use their toothed snouts to impale it, swiping vigorously to the point where their prey can be sawed in half.

As a new BBC article points out, their toothed snout – or rostrum – also makes them particularly vulnerable to entanglement in fishing nets. New research is experimenting with generating electrical and magnetic fields that would deter Sawfish and other sharks and rays from nets, reducing the numbers caught as bycatch and giving these fascinating creatures a better chance of survival.

See the article for more information as well as video of Sawfish using their "saws"!