Smalltooth sawfish rescued amid emergency response to Florida Keys bizarre fish behavior

Writer: Paul Dolan
Published: Updated:
Mote and FWC complete a quick field assessment that included taking samples on April 5, 2024 in the Lower Keys. CREDIT: MOTE MARINE LAB AND AQUARIUM

An endangered smalltooth sawfish was rescued in the Florida Keys after authorities were alerted that it was swimming in circles, like many others during the ongoing abnormal fish behavior event.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, a smalltooth sawfish measuring more than 11 feet long is recovering at the Mote Marine Laboratory facility on Thursday.

It’s a big step for officials during the ongoing emergency response to the abnormal fish behavior event in the Florida Keys, which began in Fall 2023.

The endangered species was rescued on April 5 after it was seen swimming in circles off Cudjoe Key.

A team from the Mote Marine Laboratory responded, and eventually while taking samples of the fish, they would rescue the animal. The team lugged the massive fish onto a vessel before helping it breathe for the short boat ride to a temporary holding tank.

The male sawfish has been given around-the-clock treatment from veterinarians ever since the rescue.

smalltooth sawfish
The rescued sawfish in the temporary holding tank at Mote’s facility: CREDIT: MOTE MARINE LAB AND AQUARIUM

The team was cautious before taking the endangered species to the Mote Lab facility because the trip was seven hours long.

The sawfish was transported in a trailer operated by Ripley’s Aquariums. A conservation team from Ripley’s joined crews from the Mote Lab for the sawfish transport, ensuring the water quality was safe during the trip.

“Led by NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], our biologists and partners have taken an unprecedented step to rescue an adult smalltooth sawfish in the Keys. This has not been attempted before, but this unusual mortality event made this necessary,” said Gil McRae, Director of FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. “We are hopeful this rescue and rehabilitation of an adult smalltooth sawfish will bring us one step closer to understanding the cause of this event.”

Scientists are continuing to monitor the sawfish at the Mote Marine Laboratory.

The rescued sawfish in the temporary holding tank at Mote’s facility: CREDIT: MOTE MARINE LAB AND AQUARIUM

Scientists are hopeful they will release the endangered species back into the wild.

Beginning in March, FWC started posting weekly updates on the sawfish mortality numbers during the Florida Keys fish behavior event. The latest update on Wednesday mounted to 38 moralities.

Click here to learn how you can report an endangered smalltooth sawfish and help protect the species.

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