GAINESVILLE, Fla. The University of Florida, keeper of the world's shark attack records, is also now overseeing a national records collection for another toothy marine predator: the sawfish.
Distinguished by a long rostrum or "saw" that makes it a popular curio item and gives it its name, the sawfish has become a historical and cultural icon that is rapidly disappearing, said George Burgess, a UF ichthyologist and curator of both the International Shark Attack File and the newly expanded National Sawfish Encounter Database.
"Postcards from the turn of the 20th century often depicted this so-called monster that inhabited Florida waters, and if one goes back and looks at newspaper accounts from places outside Florida, every time a sawfish was caught it made the papers," he said. "Today, it's difficult to find a bar in South Florida that doesn't have a sawfish 'saw' hanging on the wall."
An important part of Florida's fauna, the sawfish once swam in bays, lagoons and rivers extending from New York to the Rio Grande, Burgess said. Today, its American range has shrunk to Florida and its declining numbers have made it the first species of marine fish to be placed on the list of federally endangered species, he said.
Burgess and a team of scientists at the Florida Museum of History on the UF campus plan to use information from the sawfish database to further enhance a management plan developed to help speed the species' recovery.
The National Sawfish Encounter Database is a compendium of all known historical and current records of sawfish in the United States, Burgess said. Databases formerly housed with the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and two private sawfish enthusiasts are being combined with existing Florida Museum of Natural History records, he said.
Data from the collections will reveal the known distribution of sawfish throughout the United States
|Contact: George Burgess|
University of Florida