NOAA Fisheries and our partners conduct various research activities on the biology, behavior, and ecology of the smalltooth sawfish. Some of our partners include the state of Florida as well as universities, nonprofits, and international organizations. The results of this research are used to inform management decisions and enhance recovery efforts for this endangered species.

Collecting Sawfish Data

Sawfish researchers collect data from sawfish carcasses that are found and reported, sawfish incidentally caught in federal fisheries, and sawfish that are collected during field surveys for the species. Reported sawfish carcasses are necropsied and samples are collected that can aid in age growth models.

Field surveys for smalltooth sawfish are the most important method for collecting data.  A variety of survey methods are used to capture live sawfish for scientific purposes, including longline, rod-and-reel, and gillnets. Once captured a variety of measurements and samples are taken from each fish prior to release.


Small tissue samples are collected during capture for genetic analysis. Genetics are useful in understanding population structure, diversity within the population, and both the size and health of the current population in comparison to the historical.  As an example we are using genetics to determine whether there is significant movement and genetic exchange between the U.S. and Bahamas populations of smalltooth sawfish.

Blood samples are collected from sawfish to measure reproductive status and stress physiology.  Hormones within the blood are used to assess reproductive cycling and periodicity.  Blood samples for stress physiology can be used to assess post-release mortality risk from a variety of fisheries.

    Acoustic Tracking  

    Scientists are using the most recent technology to track the movements of smalltooth sawfish. This tracking involves capturing the animals, equipping them with acoustic pingers, and releasing them.  Depending on the objectives of the project, scientists may track them in a boat using hydrophones to determine short-term microhabitat use or set up a network of inwater receivers (acoustic listening stations) to track longer-term broad-scale movements. Acoustic pingers may be active for short periods of time or long periods of time lasting up to 10 years.  

    Satellite Tagging

    Sawfish caught during surveys are also often fitted with GPS satellite tags.  These types of tags are generally used on larger juveniles and adults.  Because far less is known about these larger animals, researchers hope that satellite tags can reveal important adult habitats.  Satellite tagging studies to date have shown that larger sawfish spent 96 percent of their time in shallow coastal waters.

    Learn more about the satellite tagging studies

    Population Monitoring Through Encounter Reports

    The International Sawfish Encounter Database maintains information about sightings and captures of smalltooth sawfish, which helps scientists estimate population size and habitat preferences. The database combines data from several sources, including Mote Marine Lab, Florida Museum of Natural History, NOAA Fisheries, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, as well as from encounters reported by boaters, anglers, and divers.

    Learn more about the International Sawfish Encounter Database and its biological data