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Narrow Sawfish (Anoxypristis cuspidata)

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

up to 15 ft (4.5 m)
known for their "saws," long, thin flat snouts edged with pairs of teeth, except near head, dark grey upper body coloration
up to 27 years; maturity is reached at 2-3 years (at 8-15 feet (2.5-4.5 m) in length)
mostly fish and cuttlefish
"ovoviviparous", meaning the mother holds the eggs inside of her until the young are ready to be born; litter sizes of up to 23 pups (average 12) which are born in the spring

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. Narrow sawfish are in a different genus than other living sawfishes due to morphological differences that include its narrow rostral saw, which lacks teeth on the first quarter of the saw closest to the head in adults, and the distinct shape of the lower lobe of the caudal fin and a second pair of lateral canals in its rostrum.

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. Narrow sawfish eat mostly fish and cuttlefish, but may also consume some crustaceans and polychaete worms.


Narrow sawfish are generally restricted to shallow (less than 130 feet (40 m)) coastal and estuarine habitats with salinities between 25 and 35 parts per thousand. Like most sawfishes, the narrow sawfish prefers muddy bottoms in estuarine environments.


The narrow sawfish was once found throughout much of the western Pacific Ocean and throughout the Indian Ocean as far west as the Red Sea in Egypt and Somalia. Their range has contracted and there are now very few records in the Indian Ocean. Landings are now only reported off India, and the last published record of narrow sawfish from the western edge of the range, was in 1997. In the Indo-Pacific outside of Australia, the only reported specimen in the 21st century is a single report from New Guinea in 2001. In Australia, narrow sawfish have been reported recently in the northern part of the country.

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.


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: Anoxypristis
Species: cuspidata

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 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: January 2, 2015