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Oil spill threatens toothy marine predator that is cultural and historic icon
Date:5/27/2010

nditions would become favorable for both sawfish species eventually to stage a comeback in Gulf waters, Burgess said. Far more common to South and Central America, the largetooth sawfish migrated up the Central American coast during the summer into the Gulf, the edge of its natural geographic range, he said.

"If important underwater habitat is destroyed, neither species will have a place to return to," he said. "They can't come back to an underwater desert."

A creature of historic and cultural interest, the sawfish was sometimes depicted as a so-called monster on postcards from the turn of the century, with stories of its catching routinely published in newspapers outside Florida, Burgess said. Today it is not unusual to find the fish's "saw" hanging from the walls of South Florida bars, he said.

The last time a largetooth sawfish was seen in United States waters was in 1961, said Burgess, who is curator of the National Sawfish Encounter Database, a compendium of all known historic and current records of sawfish in the United States. The predator's close relative, the smalltooth sawfish, once swam in bays, lagoons and rivers extending from New York to the Rio Grande, he said.

The sawfish's fearsome, long, toothy snout is utilized to stun fishes and unearth crustaceans, shellfish and other food buried in the bottom.

The National Marine Fisheries Service's proposed listing of the largetooth sawfish as an endangered species came after UF researchers provided detailed information about its distribution range and trends in abundance to federal officials in response to a petition asking that the fish receive the designation.

In 2008, five years after the smalltooth sawfish was listed as endangered, UF became keeper of the National Sawfish Encounter Database. Besides serving as its overseer, Burgess also is curator of the International Shark Attack File. Both national records collections are housed at the Florida Muse
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Contact: George Burgess
gburgess@flmnh.ufl.edu
352-392-2360
University of Florida
Source:Eurekalert

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