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Dwarf Sawfish (Pristis clavata)

Status | Species Description | Habitat | Distribution | Population Trends | Threats | Conservation Efforts | Regulatory Overview | Taxonomy | Key Documents | More Info


ESA Endangered - throughout its range
CITES Appendix I - throughout its range

Species Description

26.5 pounds (12 kg)
up to 11.5 feet (3.5 m)
known for their "saws," long, thin flat snouts edged with pairs of teeth, olive-brown upper body coloration
over 50 years; maturity is reached at 6-7 years (at 8-10 feet (2.4-3 m) in length)
mostly fish, but also crustaceans and mollusks
"ovoviviparous," meaning the mother holds the eggs inside of her until the young are ready to be born

Sawfish, like sharks, skates and rays, belong to a group of fish called elasmobranchs, whose skeletons are made of cartilage. Sawfish are actually modified rays with a shark-like body and gill slits on their ventral (abdominal) side.

Early sawfish, distant cousins to modern day sawfish, first appeared in the ocean around 100 million years ago. Today's "modern day" sawfish species have been in the ocean around 56 million years.

Sawfish get their name from their rostrum or "saws"--long, flat snouts edged with pairs of teeth which are used to locate, stun, and kill prey. Their diet includes mostly fish but also some crustaceans and mollusks.

The species can be confused with the similar smalltooth sawfish (P. pectinata) and largetooth sawfish (P. pristis).


Dwarf sawfish are generally restricted to shallow (less than 33 feet (10 m)) coastal and estuarine habitats, although they have been found in rivers up to 6 miles upstream. Like most sawfishes, the dwarf sawfish prefers muddy bottoms in estuarine environments.


Dwarf sawfish are thought to have historically occurred in the Indo-Pacific, western Pacific, and eastern Indian Oceans.  Their range has contracted and there are now very few records in the Indian Ocean or other parts of the Indo-Pacific outside of Australia.  In Australia, dwarf sawfish have been reported from Cairns to the east, through the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north, and through Kimberley to the west.  Most records over the last 30 years have been from north and northwest Australia.

Population Trends

No robust estimates of historic or current population size exist. However, available data, museum and catch reports, and other records indicate that the species' distribution has been greatly reduced and that the population numbers have declined dramatically. It is likely that western Australia is the last significant area of dwarf sawfish.


Conservation Efforts

All sawfish (Pristidae) species are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Appendix I limits international trade in species to exceptional circumstances only.

Regulatory Overview

In September 2010, we received a petition from WildEarth Guardians requesting that this species be listed under the ESA. On June 4, 2013, we published a proposed rule to list the species as endangered. On December 12, 2014, we published a final rule listing the species as endangered under the ESA.


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Chondrichthyes
Order: Pristiformes
Family: Pristidae
Genus: Pristis
Species: clavata

Key Documents

(All documents are in PDF format.)
Title Federal Register Date
Final Rule to List 5 Species of Sawfish as Endangered under the ESA 79 FR 73978 12/12/2014
12-Month Finding and Proposed Endangered Listing of Five Species of Sawfish, including status review 78 FR 33300 06/04/2013
90-day finding on Petition, Initiation of Status Review 76 FR 12308 03/07/2011
Petition to list Six Species of Sawfish n/a 09/07/2010

More Information

Updated: May 31, 2016