The elusive fish, the world’s largest rays, find themselves among the most endangered marine fish in the world.

Sawfish fieldwork

Sawfish are well known for their unique body parts called rostra: long, chainsaw-like nose extensions, which have a sixth sense. But that extra level of perception does little to protect them from human exploitation.

Species name:

Narrow sawfish (Anoxypristis cuspidata), also known as the pointed or knifetooth sawfish.


You can distinguish these medium-sized, gray sawfish from other species just by looking at their rostra, which lack the typical teeth along their quarter-length closest to the base. They grow to about 11 feet long and are known for their docile temperament — unless they’re cornered.

narrow sawfish
Narrow sawfish, 1878 illustration via Biodiversity Heritage Library

Where it’s found:

The species is distributed in Indo-Pacific marine waters and estuaries.

IUCN Red List status:

Endangered, with a population decline of 50-70% over three generations (approximately 18 years). It’s also listed in Appendix I of CITES, which bans international trade.

Major threats:

The toothed rostrum and the fact that these fish swim close to the sea floor make narrow sawfish extremely susceptible to fishing, especially the use of gill nets and demersal trawls. They’re often, if not always, caught as bycatch.

Notable conservation programs:

Narrow sawfish are nationally protected in Indonesia, but there are few conservation efforts directed at the species throughout its range.

My favorite (and worst) experience:

To save them, I must first find them. That’s the most basic mission for me and my team, and it’s not easy. It took three months in the field before we saw any — and when we finally did, it was seven dead juveniles in a single fisher’s catch in Merauke, Papua.

Photo: Sihar Aditia Silalahi (used with permission)

It was a jarring feeling, seeing my first real sawfishes in the wild but having them be dead. I experienced delight at the chance to finally hold them in my hands, but realized their existence hovers on the brink.

Previously in The Revelator:

Vanishing: Sawfishes Are Weird and Wonderful — But Important, Too

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Sihar Aditia Silalahi

has a strong interest in conservation, specifically of sharks and rays. Previously, he had an internship with MantaWatch, working on manta ray conservation related to tourism in Komodo National Park. In 2020 Silalahi won the Future Conservationist Award from the Conservation Leadership Programme to pursue higher learning in conservation, and to develop and manage his project, Sawfish Indonesia. The first sawfish conservation project in Indonesia, it combines social and scientific approaches, including fishery surveys, citizen science, eDNA and satellite tagging, to attract the attention of both the Indonesian government and global stakeholders in sawfish conservation.