Scientists Mystified by Erratic and Dying Sawfish in the Florida Keys

Scientists Mystified by Erratic and Dying Sawfish in the Florida Keys

A federal initiative has been enacted to rescue sawfish dying for unexplained reasons

Liv Caputo
Liv Caputo
|
March 31, 2024

FLORIDA KEYS—The Sunshine State's endangered smalltooth sawfish are dying at an unprecedented rate, and scientists have absolutely no idea why.

In late January, reports from the Florida Keys began rolling in: sawfish are spinning in circles and turning up dead. Scientists logged the erratic behavior in 109 sawfish and discovered 28 dead—all within two months.

"We suspect that total mortalities are greater since sawfish are negatively buoyant and thus unlikely to float after death," said Adam Brame, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) sawfish recovery coordinator.

The Department of Environmental Protection has run tests in the nearshore waters off of the Lower Keys—checking levels of oxygen, PH, temperature, nitrogen, phosphorus, chemicals, and salinity.

All tests came back normal.

With the root cause still unidentified, NOAA has initiated an "emergency response" to rescue and rehabilitate affected sawfish, and discover what nefarious occurrence has targeted the dwindling species.

"If the opportunity presents itself, this would be the first attempt ever to rescue and rehabilitate smalltooth sawfish from the wild," Brame said.

The federal attempt to locate and rescue the sick sawfish will start next week. A Keys hotline has already been set up, designed to log and report sightings of the endangered animal. Next, scientists will rescue the fish and bring them to one of three facilities for rehabilitation.

Fish and Wildlife (FWC), meanwhile, noted that there have also been increased reports of small-scale fish mortalities in the Keys and has since worked to test fish samples and collect sawfish carcasses for research.

The U.S. species was declared endangered in 2003, and the non-U.S. species in 2014. According to NOAA's website, the smalltooth sawfish were once found from Texas to North Carolina—now, they almost exclusively live off of Florida's southwest coast.

 

 

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Liv Caputo

Liv Caputo

Livia Caputo is a senior at Florida State University, working on a major in Criminology, and a triple minor in Psychology, Communications, and German. She has been working on a journalism career for the past year, and hopes to become a successful reporter after graduation. Her work has been cited in Fox News, the New York Post, and the Daily Mail

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