A massive sawfish that ranks as the longest ever measured by researchers turned up dead off Florida Keys, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The smalltooth sawfish — a critically endangered species — was a 16-foot female, with an estimated weight between 800 and 1,000 pounds, the state’s Wildlife Research Institute reported April 8 on Facebook.
It is one of two large sawfish that washed up dead in the Keys last week. The other was 12 feet, 4 inches, and weighed 400 to 500 pounds, the commission said.
“The 16-foot sawfish ... is the longest measured by scientists since research began on the species,” researchers reported.
“There was no obvious cause of death for either sawfish. However, valuable life history information was and will continue to be collected from both carcasses,” officials said. “Sawfish biologists are working to learn as much as possible from samples they collected.”
Smalltooth sawfish are known to grow to no more than 16 feet, according to NOAA Fisheries. However, Florida wildlife officials say they may potentially reach 18 feet. The species is known for “a long, flat snout edged with teeth — that looks like a saw,” NOAA reports.
The snouts, or rostrum, have up to 32 teeth on each side, Florida Fish and Wildlife reports. “The saw is used to slash at prey in the water column and to dislodge prey from bottom-dwelling habitats.”
There is little historical data on smalltooth sawfish numbers in U.S. waters, according to NOAA. The species was once existed in coastal waters from Texas to North Carolina but is now “only found off the coast of Florida.”
Among the unusual qualities of the species: An “electric sense,” according to Oceana, an ocean conservation organization.
“The rostrum is covered with special organs that help these fish locate prey in the low visibility of coastal waters by sensing the electric field created by other fishes and invertebrates,” Oceana says.