Sawfish emergency response seeks answers to Florida Keys mortality event

Published: Updated:
marine species
An endangered smalltooth sawfish thrashing above shallow water. CREDIT: WINK News

Officials are preparing an emergency response to the mysterious sawfish mortality and abnormal fish behavior happening in the Lower Florida Keys.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, at least 28 smalltooth sawfish deaths have happened as of March 24, a considerable spike from the typical four or five mortalities in a year.

Smalltooth research. CREDIT: FWC

NOAA is working with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, along with other organizations, to coordinate the emergency response. The organizations aim to rescue and rehabilitate the endangered species that have been impacted and prevent more animals from dying.

This is the first time authorities have attempted to rescue and rehabilitate the endangered smalltooth sawfish from the wild.

“We’re hopeful for positive outcomes from these rescue attempts and grateful to our partners for their support as we work to protect this endangered species,” said Adam Brame, NOAA Fisheries’ sawfish recovery coordinator.

“It’s important to note that active rescue and rehabilitation are not always effective in saving stranded animals. However, it can still give us critical information to learn about the nature of the distress,” he added.

While 28 smalltooth sawfish mortalities have been documented. However, a total of 109 have been impacted by the event, as of March 24.

“We suspect that total mortalities are greater since sawfish are negatively buoyant and thus unlikely to float after death,” said Brame. “Given the limited population size of smalltooth sawfish, the mortality of at least two dozen sawfish could have an impact on the recovery of this species.”

marine species
An endangered smalltooth fish thrashing above shallow water. CREDIT: WINK News

The recovered endangered species will be taken to either Ripley’s Aquariums, Mote Marine Laboratory or Dynasty Marine Associates, Inc.

Scientists are investigating the cause of how the issue is developing. Once rescued, the endangered species will be under constant observation at quarantine facilities.

With help from the Smalltooth Sawfish Recovery Implementation Team and other partners, authorities will make the final decision about an animal’s rehabilitation status.

“Our goal is to release all rescued sawfish back to the wild once rehabilitated,” said Brame.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission added a new website tracking the abnormal fish behavior event.

Smalltooth sawfish death investigation. CREDIT: U.S. Sawfish Recovery

According to the report, 365 fish kills have been reported, along with 203 fish samples and 138 water samples collected.

Twelve smalltooth sawfish and 52 other fish have been sent from the Commission to the University of South Alabama for analysis.

Report sawfish sightings by calling 1-844-472-9347 or sending an email to

Click here for more information about the abnormal fish behavior event in the Florida Keys.

The organizations below are involved in the rehabilitation efforts:

  • NOAA Fisheries
  • Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
  • Havenworth Coastal Conservation
  • Ripley’s Aquariums
  • Mote Marine Laboratory
  • Dynasty Marine Associates, Inc.

Copyright ©2024 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.