Cairns based Sharks and Rays Australia principal scientist Dr Barbara Wueringer with a sawfish caught during a nationwide survey of the rare and endangered species
Cairns based Sharks and Rays Australia principal scientist Dr Barbara Wueringer with a sawfish caught during a nationwide survey of the rare and endangered species

Rare fish sightings a sight for ‘saw’ eyes

A WEALTH of sightings of one of the Far North's rarest fish has been a sight for "saw" eyes.

Scientists have been buoyed by hundreds of sightings of sawfish across Australia after fearing populations of the distinctive sea creatures were dwindling.

Forty years ago, sawfish were regularly seen off Sydney, however, since then they have been rarely seen outside of the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Northern Territory and the Kimberley.

This map shows sightings of four different species of sawfish found across Australia. CREDIT: Sharks and Rays Australia
This map shows sightings of four different species of sawfish found across Australia. CREDIT: Sharks and Rays Australia

But Sharks and Rays Australia principal scientist Dr Barbara Wueringer said she and her team, which was carrying out a long-term survey of four species of sawfish across the nation, were surprised by the sheer number of sightings of the animals reported by the public, including photographs, specimens, and even stories.

"Before we did the survey, we were getting about 12 sightings a year," she said.

"But we got 500 this year.

"There were hot spots that came up, that were previously unknown, so that was really exciting as well."

Queensland had 42 per cent of sightings and reports, including sightings of narrow sawfish (Anoxypristis cuspidata) confirmed south of Cooktown. WA had 40 per cent of submissions, 14 per cent in the NT and 4 per cent in NSW.

Researchers from Sharks and Rays Australia examine a sawfish
Researchers from Sharks and Rays Australia examine a sawfish

New hot spots for sawfish were identified by the scientists at Weipa, Karratha, and there was evidence that sawfish could still be found in Newcastle, and down the WA coastline.

Most sightings occurred around human population centres such as Darwin, Weipa, or the coastal towns of the Pilbara region.

Dr Wueringer said the public had helped generate a completely new data set on the historic and current distributions of sawfish.

"Weipa, for example, is extremely exciting because there seems to be, within the Weipa area, nursery grounds," she said.

"People have been seeing a lot of juveniles, so obviously that helps us to focus our research."

The team will visit Cape York in the coming months to gather more records of sawfish sightings in the Far Northern region.

Most sightings of sawfish were in areas that typically have nets for fishing or protection from sharks. These nets can be deadly to sawfish.

So, researchers need to know if higher numbers of sawfish are found inside net-free zones that have been established near Weipa and Darwin.

They're calling on commercial fishers, particularly in Queensland, who may visit the remote waters to lend a hand and report their sightings.

For details visit https://saw.fish



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