Bulletin 40 - March 1990: Sawfish


by J.N.B. Brown


Name: Pristis zysron Bleeker, 1852
Family: Pristidae
Order: Rays, guitarfish and sawfish - Rajiformes
Arabic: 'Sayyaafah'

A large male sawfish was netted in Khor Qirkashan, the Musaffah Channel, on 12 April 1989. As it was quite active, the fishermen left it until 15 April before hauling it on board their boat. By this time it had tired, but was still dangerous as it had a large saw-like snout. To minimize the risk of injury to themselves, they cut off the saw. Maarten Verhage noticed the fish being landed at Khalidiya and we went to photograph and measure it.

The fishermen told us that if a female sawfish is caught first and left for a short while, a male is attracted and they usually end up netting him as well. The female is never attracted if a male is caught first.

The sawfish was a sandy gray color on top and creamy white underneath. It had two tall dorsal fins and a high tail fin. All the fins, with the exception of the pectoral fins, were placed on or behind the mid-point of the combined head and body, excluding the saw. The eyes, positioned close to the top of the head, had a skin eyelid with a movable V-shaped flap. The saw had 32 teeth on each side (between 30 and 35), which separates it from Pristis cuspidatus (22 to 27 teeth), a similar species that may also be present in the Arabian Gulf.

The sawfish usually inhabits sandy grass bed areas and food probably consists of small fish, crustaceans and mollusks. The purpose of the saw is not clear, but as the fish is not usually aggressive, it is probably defensive.

Total length 13'4.5" (407.7 cm)
Length of saw 3'3" (99.1 cm)
Fin height Front Dorsal 1'0.5" (31.75 cm)
Rear Dorsal 1'1.5" (34.3 cm)
Tail 1'11" (58.4 cm)
Across Pectoral Fins 3'6" (106.7 cm)
Length of rear Pelvic Fins 4.5" (10.1 cm)

A sawfish is now in the ENHG collection measures 54" (137 cm), which means the total length of the fish was probably more than 18' (5.63 m).


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