Utility of rostra in the identification of Australian sawfishes (Chondrichthyes: Pristidae)

Jeff M. Whitty*, Nicole M. Phillips, Dean C. Thorburn, Colin A. Simpfendorfer, Iain Field, Stirling C. Peverell, David L. Morgan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


Effective management of critically endangered sawfishes can be a difficult task, in part due to interspecies misidentification. Current methods for identifying sawfishes can be impractical as they are based on morphological features that are often unobservable. Further exploration is required to develop a more reliable means of identification.This study explored the utility of sawfish rostra in determining the species, size and sex of sawfishes, as rostra are commonly the only feature of a sawfish observed by fishers or present in public and private collections.A morphometric and meristic database consisting of over 1100 narrow sawfish (Anoxypristis cuspidata), dwarf sawfish (Pristis clavata), largetooth (or freshwater) sawfish (Pristis pristis; formerly Pristis microdon) and green sawfish (Pristis zijsron) rostra from Australian waters, was statistically analysed.Identification of sawfishes was found to be possible through the use of the variables: inter-tooth spacing, standard rostrum width/standard rostrum length, standard rostrum length/total rostrum length, rostrum tip width/standard rostrum length, and/or rostral tooth count range, although the distinguishing variables were species-dependent.The relationship between standard rostrum length and total length was also observed to vary substantially between most species. Models for estimating total length from standard rostrum length are provided.This study has provided a tool that can be used to identify accurately the species and size of sawfishes by their rostra, and therefore can assist in clarifying historical and contemporary sawfish records, nomenclature and distributions. A better understanding of these issues should allow sawfish conservation strategies to become more focused, and thus more effective.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)791-804
Number of pages14
JournalAquatic Conservation
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2014


  • Endangered species
  • Fish
  • Fishing
  • Ocean
  • River
  • Sawfish
  • Taxonomy


Dive into the research topics of 'Utility of rostra in the identification of Australian sawfishes (Chondrichthyes: Pristidae)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this