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Florida Scientist


Encounters with the smalltooth sawfish, Pristis pectinata, in Florida Bay and the Florida Keys were documented by soliciting information from anyone who might have encountered them in these areas. Each person who had information was asked the same series of questions to determine the date and location of the encounter, estimated total length (ETL), and habitat characteristics. A total of 1,632 sawfish encounters occurring between 1990 and 2002 were reported to us (89% occurred between 1998 and 2002). Sawfish were encountered during the day and night. Most sawfish were probably immature when encountered. The smallest sawfish (<1 m ETE) were found in <2.4 m of water and virtually all larger immature sawfish (1.1-2.9 m ETE) were found in <10 m of water. The largest sawfish (>3 m ETE) were found in shallow water (<10 m) and deeper water (to 122 m). This study is the first to document the regular occurrence of smalltooth sawfish in water deeper than 10 m. A wide variety of habitat types were reported and included mud, sand, seagrass, limestone hard bottom, rock, coral reef, and sponge bottom. Most sawfish encounters in Florida occurred between March and August, though numerous encounters were reported throughout the year. Most encounters consisted of a single sawfish being observed or caught on hook and line, but groups of 2-20 similar-sized individuals were also reported. These data support our previous observation that the United States sawfish population is larger than previously estimated, and that sawfish are relatively common in south Florida.

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