Life History and Population Dynamics of the Smalltooth Sawfish, Pristis pectinata, and Largetooth Sawfish, Pristis perotetti, in North American Waters

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

Robin L. Sherman

Second Advisor

Joshua Feingold


Class Elasmobranchii represents a family of fishes which have developed a wide array of adaptations which have allowed the family to survive over the course of the last 400 million years. Within Class Elasmobranchii, the sawfish (Family Pristidae) represent a family of highly adapted, unique organisms. Family Pristidae, however, also represents a family of fishes placed in peril, when adaptations which allow for greater hunting capabilities and broader range of habitat place them at significant risk when faced with increased fishing pressure and anthropogenic effects within their natural habitat.

Of the six to seven currently recognized extant species of sawfish, the smalltooth sawfish, P. pectinata, and the largetooth sawfish, P. perotteti, are the only two species of sawfish native to North American waters. Their historical ranges extended throughout North America, with areas of greatest abundance in parts of the United States and most of the Caribbean coast of Central America. However, both species have undergone dramatic transitions in population abundance and range over the course of the last century. Incidental capture as bycatch, overexploitation by directed fisheries, increased demand in local and international trade, habitat degradation and other anthropogenic influences have led to severe declines in population abundance and loss of critical nursery habitat, leading both species to be extirpated from the majority of their native habitat and facing the threat of extinction. While essential steps have been taken to protect P. pectinata in U.S. waters, critical protections are yet to be in place to prevent the possible extinction of P. perotteti, as well as further degradation and possible extinction of P. pectinata.

This paper will serve as a comprehensive collection of known scientific literature to date for the smalltooth sawfish, Pristis pectinata, and largetooth sawfish, Pristis perotteti, in North American waters. This paper will focus on the anatomy, physiology, biology and life history of both species, as well as provide a comprehensive review of shifts in population size and range throughout North America, and the threats facing both species, both historically and in present day.

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