Monday, October 16, 2017

Behind the Scenes of International Sawfish Day

Annmarie Fearing    

Katy Duke
Image credit: The Deep
   The Sawfish Conservation Society had the pleasure of interviewing Katy Duke, the Chief Executive Officer of The Deep aquarium in Hull, England. After working in the aquarium industry for over 22 years, she has become captivated by sawfish and has taken on the additional role of European studbook keeper for sawfish. As the studbook keeper, Duke is in charge of compiling and maintaining collective histories of captive sawfish in Europe for population management purposes. 

   She is currently working with other aquariums and researchers around the globe to further sawfish conservation. As someone who helped get International Sawfish Day (ISD) off the ground, we wanted to hear Duke’s thoughts on what ISD is all about.

    According to Duke, the initial idea for ISD came during the American Elasmobranch Society Sawfish Symposium in 2016. Duke, Paula Carlson (Dallas World Aquarium), Stacia White (Ripley’s Aquarium), Alan Henningsen (National Aquarium Baltimore) and Nick Dulvy (IUCN Shark Specialist Group Chair) were discussing how great it would be to have a day for everyone around the world to celebrate sawfish. “We realized there was enough enthusiasm at the symposium so we decided to go for it, and International Sawfish Day was born!”

Green sawfish (Pristis zijsron) swimming at The Deep.
Photo credit: The Deep
   With an international day, such as this, there is always a driving goal behind it. “Right now, the goal of ISD is to promote awareness of sawfish. We want to create a buzz  and educate the public on what sawfish are and why they are important,” says Duke. Sawfish are considered the most threatened of all sharks and rays, yet their plight is not well known by the public. Sawfish have suffered a large decline in both range and abundance from accidental captures in fisheries, exploitation for their fins and saws, and from loss and degradation of habitat. With a ‘tooth’-lined saw making up to one third of a sawfish’s body, “they aren’t the best shape for avoiding fishing gear,” says Duke. Often sawfish are killed or have their saws removed by fishers in attempts to untangle them from nets or fishing lines. Even if released alive, sawless sawfish are likely to slowly starve as their saw is used to find and capture prey. There has also been a large loss in coastal habitat, such as mangroves, which are used as nurseries by juvenile sawfish. “You can talk about so many different conservation issues surrounding sawfish, which has led to them being in the position that they are in today. While many species have suffered similar plights, sawfish are a great flagship species for the conservation of marine life,” comments Duke.

   Duke and the other organizers hope to further develop ISD and add on additional elements, such as fundraising, to support sawfish conservation in future years. She also noted that ISD is helping to bring together the people working on sawfish in all different disciplines and from various countries. “ISD will be celebrated all over the world and is as relevant in Australia as it is in the US, Africa, South America and Europe,” states Duke. She also commented on how everyone has a part to play in sawfish conservation and how ISD is a great way to unite everyone behind this common goal.

Children in awe of a green sawfish.
Photo credit: The Deep
   For those of you looking to participate in ISD this year, Duke had some suggestions on how you can get involved. A great way to reach a large audience is by sharing things about sawfish on your social media. The Deep aquarium is starting a Thunderclap, which will tweet out a united message about ISD and sawfish on each person’s Twitter that joins the Thunderclap. To join in on the Thunderclap, you can follow this link here: You can also follow the Sawfish Conservation Society on Twitter @sawfishconserv and Facebook, to stay informed on any events happening during ISD. Some other fun ideas are listed below:

Draw or create a sawfish and share your picture online.

Visit an aquarium or venue with activities going on for ISD (follow this link for a list of activities:

Take some interesting sawfish facts into school or your work place. You can learn all about sawfish and play sawfish games at

Bake sawfish shaped cookies and give them to your friends. Dress up as a sawfish!

Spark up as many conversations as you can about sawfish and why you think they are important.

If you see a sawfish saw somewhere, let researchers at The University of Southern Mississippi, Louisiana State University and the Sawfish Conservation Society know by emailing

    Duke says the most important thing on ISD is to have fun, and if you have a genuine passion you can take that into your everyday life and be an ambassador for sawfish! 

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