Monday, June 6, 2011

Sea Monsters: Saw

Port St. Lucie, Florida, is a relatively small town on the Atlantic coast whose major preoccupations are golf, boating, fishing and Mets baseball (the town is home to their spring training camp). Incorporated in 1961, Port St. Lucie is hardly the kind of place that one would expect to run into a sea monster. But such expectations might need to change.

As this article from points out, June 1st was “river monster” day around the Ballantrae Country Club marina down in Port St. Lucie. It was there that a pair of friends spotted something big lying just off shore. Closer inspection showed the eighteen foot creature was a now rare sawfish. “It was like seeing a prehistoric sea monster,” one of them said.

Sawfish are, in fact, gentle giants who prey on small fish and bottom-feeding shellfish in warm, subtropical waters around the world including the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Though it looks something like a shark, the sawfish is technically a ray. They can grow to as large as 25 feet, though the 18 foot creature spotted at Port St. Lucie is more typical.

The saw from which the creature gets its name is positioned rather like a nose at the front of the head. There are usually twenty sets of sharp dermal denticles on each side of the protuberance which the animal uses to catch smaller fish. The sawfish slashes back and forth among schooling fish, impaling their prey on their snout, and then they dive to the bottom and rub their meal off their saw on a rock or coral bed.

While generally mild mannered, sawfish have been known to attack humans if repeatedly provoked. They were a favorite prey of buccaneers as not only was their flesh tasty, but their saw could be put to good use for such things as cutting bark from trees, meat from the bone, as fishing hooks or even as a scalpel for unfortunately rough surgical procedures.

As of 2003, the sawfish has a place on the Endangered Species List due to overhunting and loss of habitat. Little is known about these unusual creatures and research continues to improve our knowledge of another unique sea monster.

Header: Sawfish via Wikipedia


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Wow, that's a pretty big fish and it would be quite a surprise to see one so close to shore or in a river area... No wonder they reacted the way they did. At least they let it go on it's way. That's a good thing, anyway. And now they have a good story to tell too.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! It would be amazing to see something like a sawfish up close. Prehistoric, sure, but pretty cool too.