Saturday, November 15, 2014

Introducing: Team Sawfish of Western Australia Monitoring sawfish in Western Australia since 2002


The Fitzroy River in Western Australia, is arguably one of the largest and most important known nurseries of the critically endangered largetooth (or freshwater) sawfish (Pristis pristis). Juvenile largetooth sawfish inhabit rivers and lakes for over four years before moving into estuarine and marine waters, where they can can grow up to 7 m (23 feet) in length! In the river these fish face an increased threat from habitat modifications, including dams and water abstraction. It is therefore critical that we understand the ecology and life history of these threatened fish and how they are impacted by human disturbances, in order to conserve remaining populations.

Commencing in 2002, we (Team Sawfish) have studied the population of largetooth sawfish that inhabits the Fitzroy River and surrounding environments. Through our work, we have gained a better understanding of the ecology and physiology of this species. Our program is the longest continuously run research involving the largetooth sawfish in the world. The long duration of this research allows us to provide invaluable insight into the long-term changes in this sawfish population.

Team Sawfish measuring a juvenile largetooth sawfish in the Fitzroy River. 

Managed by Dr David Morgan at Murdoch University’s Freshwater Fish Group & Fish Health Unit, Team Sawfish is a partnership between Murdoch University, the various ranger groups in the west Kimberley, including the Nyikina-Mangala Rangers, and the people of the west Kimberley. As the Fitzroy River is located in a remote and harsh environment, Murdoch University researchers depend on local rangers and residents to provide local knowledge, assist with field work and report sawfish captures.

Our program has grown through the years in numbers and projects. Starting on the Fitzroy River, we have expanded its focus to now include the largetooth sawfish, green sawfish (Pristis zijsron) and dwarf sawfish (Pristis clavata) in the Fitzroy River and throughout the entirety of northern Western Australia, one of the last hotspots for these species. 

Check back here for more updates on Team Sawfish and our research. For more information, visit:

  Team Sawfish 2012 at Geikie Gorge on the Fitzroy River, Western Australia. Photo: Paul Billan

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