Smalltooth Sawfish: Pristis pectinata

Family: Pristidae
Common name(s)

Smalltooth Sawfish.


A large, heavy-bodied sawfish. Entire body covered with rough denticles. Rostrum relatively narrow, with 20-30 paired rostral teeth. Teeth slightly closer together at rostral tip than base. Rostrum length 0.21-0.3 x total length. First dorsal fin origin level with, or slightly posterior to pelvic fin origins. Dorsal posterior margins straight. Pectoral fins narrow and long, anterior margins weakly convex, posterior margins straight, apices obtusely angular. Caudal fin posterior margin straight, without defined lower caudal lobe. Large lateral keel on caudal fin base.


Dorsum greyish-brown or bluish-grey. Ventrum White, Rostral teeth white.


Maximum accepted length 554cm. Anecdotal reports to 760cm. Size at birth ~60cm.


Tropical/ Subtropical inshore habitats. The smalltooth sawfish is associated with mangrove and estuarine environments and nearshore sand and mud often adjacent to reef flats. Red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) is considered a critical habitat for this species. 0.1-88m.


Atlantic Ocean and possibly southeast Africa.
In the Americas, Smalltooth Sawfish were historically found as far south as Uruguay, throughout the Caribbean and Central America, within the Gulf of Mexico, and along the Atlantic coast of the United States to the Carolinas. However, smalltooth sawfish have been wholly or nearly extirpated from large areas of their former range. The species is currently known to occur in the southeastern United States, The Bahamas, Cuba, Honduras, and Belize.
In the eastern Atlantic, the status of the smalltooth sawfish appears to be even more dire. Historically present from Angola to Mauritania, there has been only one confirmed record for the region in the last 10 years (Sierra Leone in 2003). Two other unconfirmed reports exist but may be misidentifications of other species.
There are no recent records from East Africa. If historical catches were accurately identified, it has been completely extirpated from that region.

Conservation Status


The Smalltooth Sawfish (Pristis pectinata) has been wholly or nearly extirpated from large areas of its former range in the Atlantic Ocean by fishing (trawl and inshore netting) and habitat modification. Negative records from scientific surveys, anecdotal fisher observations, and fish landings data over its historic range infer a population reduction of ≥95% over a period of three generations (i.e., 1962 to present). The remaining populations are now small, and fragmented. The species can only be reliably encountered in the Bahamas (where suitable habitat is available) and the United States (Georgia south to Louisiana). It is rare but present in Honduras, Belize, Cuba, Sierra Leone, and possibly Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania. Threats to Smalltooth Sawfish still exist today in areas where sawfish are unprotected and habitat modification (mangrove removal) and inshore netting still occurs.


Carlson, J., Wiley, T. & Smith, K. 2013. Pristis pectinata (errata version published in 2019). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2013: e.T18175A141791261. Downloaded on 28 April 2021.


Aplacental lecithotrophic viviparous. Litter size 15-20.


Smalltooth sawfishes mostly feed on crabs and other benthic invertebrates.


Juvenile smalltooth sawfish mostly inhabit shallow mangroves and inshore areas. Adults have larger home ranges and sometimes move offshore into deeper water.

Reaction to divers

Somewhat skittish. May allow a close approach with slow, non-threatening movements.

Diving logistics

Rarely encountered by divers due to their scarcity and preference for inshore turbid environments. However, after longterm conservation efforts that include education of fishermen and heavy fines for harming the species, sightings in Florida are on the rise.

There are still no reliable locations to find Smalltooth sawfish but snorkeling in red mangrove areas of Florida Bay is a good place to start. Snorkelers are advised to keep an eye open for American crocodiles in these areas.

There is an area close to Jupiter Inlet where this species was seen for many years but the area appears to have been deserted once word spread and many divers began frequenting the area.

Similar species

Largetooth Sawfish Distinguishable by wider rostrum, dorsal fin origin over pectoral free rear tip, and distinct lower caudal lobe.