Environment Sawfish exposed as the ultimate stealth hunter

Sawfish exposed as the ultimate stealth hunter

The lethal side-swipes of a sawfish’s distinctive snout (or rostrum) are barely detectable to their prey, new research has revealed.

There has been limited research into this endangered species, which is largely found in the Kimberley region of WA, and its behavioural habits are not fully understood.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Philip Clausen from the University of Newcastle and Associate Professor David Morgan from the Centre for Fish and Fisheries Research at Murdoch University were part of the research team.

They simulated sawfish movements, finding the hydrodynamic shape of the rostra caused little turbulence while moving through the water.

The stealthy sawfish use lateral swipe movements to impale prey such as fish and crustaceans on their teeth-lined snouts, which are covered by electro-sensitive pores that help them to detect prey.

“The hydrodynamic nature of their rostra makes any movement barely detectable in water,” Professor Clausen said.

“We were surprised at how fast the motion was – our modelling clearly shows that with a lateral swipe, by the time the sword reaches the prey, it’s already too late,” he said.

The data indicate the rostra are unlikely to be used to stir up river and sea beds to uncover prey, as was thought by scientists for many years.

Professor Morgan worked with researchers from the University of Newcastle, James Cook University and Sharks and Rays Australia, to come up with the latest findings

Director of Sharks and Rays Australia, Dr Barbara Wueringer, has studied sawfish habits closely and said she was delighted to have found another piece of the puzzle.

“The results of our work will help us gain a better understanding of their habits and ultimately help us improve our conservation efforts,” she said

Professor Morgan leads Team Sawfish at Murdoch University which works closely with Indigenous ranger groups in the Fitzroy River region in the Kimberley to aid the management and conservation of sawfish.

He advises against hunters removing the rostra from the sawfish.

“The findings of our study show just how instrumental sawfish rostra are for their survival and we would urge the few remaining human population centres that have sawfishes inhabiting their local waters to address this destructive phenomenon,” Professor Morgan said.

Read more about this intriguing creature here. Story credit: Murdoch University newsroom.

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