Everyone has been to Sea World in Florida, or the New England Aquarium in Boston, or perhaps just the Mandalay Bay Hotel Aquarium in Las Vegas. For many people all the big public aquariums start to look eerily alike – a big tank with toothy sharks, small tanks with colorful reef fish, and brilliantly lit tanks of jellyfish (or more accurately, sea jellies, since jellyfish are neither jelly nor fish).
But to come to this conclusion is to miss the uniqueness of each aquarium, a uniqueness that the curators strive to achieve with the passion that comes from doing what you love to do. Since each aquarium by definition exists in its own local environment, each tries to bring that individuality to the public. Oh, and also a big tank of toothy sharks.
In going through some photos of a recent visit to North Carolina I came across a different kind of toothiness – a sawfish.
Sawfish look like people (well, maybe a little…just look at the photo above). Okay, not so much people. But they do look like sharks with long snouts (called a rostrum) filled with teeth-like denticles. Technically they are considered to be rays, the flattened fish with winglike fins that skate across the bottom of the tank and sneak up on tourists in the tropics.
Not surprisingly, sawfish use their “saw” to slash at prey with their denticle-covered rostrum. They also use it to defend themselves from predators, even if those predators are merely the unprotected ankles of an unwary wader. Unfortunately for sawfish, however, their saw hasn’t kept them from becoming endangered species. Many are poached for their rostrum (as a collectors item) or their fins (for food). Many are simply pulled up as bycatch by fisherman looking for more legal forage.
Sawfish are popular at public aquariums where they can be found, but are actually difficult to maintain due to their size and the lack of success in breeding programs. There is some question as to how much longer they will be around to be seen.
And I have to admit they are pretty cool to see.
More on aquariums here.