Two sawfish washed ashore dead in the Florida Keys over the past week; one of those fish is the largest of its species to ever be measured, clocking in at 16 feet long and weighing as much as a horse.
The animal was a female smalltooth sawfish, a gray-brown fish that is endemic to the waters around Florida. A few years back, the species was found to be capable of parthenogenesis, a type of asexual reproduction. The smalltooth sawfish is one of five species of sawfish, all of which are endangered and understudied.
Though less discussed than other elasmobranchs, the fish family that includes skates, rays, and sharks, sawfish have perhaps the most iconic look, with their toothed, paddle-like snouts that add bonus feet to their total length.
Like ancient elasmobranchs, sawfish vertebrae, which are cartilaginous, take on a new ring of growth each year. Gregg Poulakis, a fish biologist at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told LiveScience that his team intends to figure out the age of the dead sawfish by counting those rings.
There was no obvious cause of death for either of the beached sawfish, though the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will also collect DNA from both individuals to understand how they genetically fit in with the rest of the known population, according to a Facebook post from the FWC. The smaller individual (at a mere 12 feet and several hundred fewer pounds than its 16-foot companion) was not fully matured, while the larger specimen had eggs in its reproductive tract, confirming it was an adult. The eggs were each the size of a human fist and, had they the chance, would’ve turned into to 2-foot pups.
The research team hopes the newly discovered individuals will shed some light on the elusive endangered animals. Hopefully they won’t have to continue to learn from the dead.