This area is critical to the recovery of the once widespread species, Burgess said. Historically, the region was full of sawfish, but the numbers drastically declined as development encroached on the creature's coastal habitat and its encounters with humans rose, he said.
"Sawfish are disappearing all over the world for basically the same reason, which is that their big saws snag very easily in fishing nets," he said. "They have become despised as net wreckers because obviously a fisherman doesn't like getting one in his net. So over the years most sawfish that were captured were killed."
Even those sawfish lucky enough to be tossed back into the water were often released without their saws, as people came to value these body parts as curio items, Burgess said.
Although the sawfish's body resembles a shark, the sawfish belongs to a class of fish called rays. Its elongated blade-like snout is used to stun and kill prey.
"Sawfish get lots of ooh's and aah's because humans tend to gravitate to the more charismatic megafauna, as it is characterized," he said. "We place more values on whales than their kin the field mice or the brown-eyed seal more than we do some wood rat."
Part of the sawfish's appeal may also be its increasing rarity, said Burgess, who estimates there are only a few thousand sawfish left in Florida.
It takes longer for the sawfish population to recover than other species because of its unusually slow growth, late onset of sexual maturity and low reproductive potential, Burgess said. Although the sawfish has a long life span of 30 years or more, it is a live-bearer. As such, it has a prolonged gestation period and produces very few young, he said.
|Contact: George Burgess|
University of Florida