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Sawfish and other species dying from abnormal behavior called whirling

Posted at 6:08 PM, Mar 28, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-28 18:08:21-04

CAPE CORAL, Fla. — One of our critically endangered species in Southwest Florida is now facing a new threat, but the cause is still unknown.

Since the start of the year, 28 Small Tooth Sawfish have been reported dead after abnormal behavior known as whirling.

Whirling or spinning is when these fish swim in circles until they die. While this is particularly concerning for the endangered sawfish, other species have been reported to be experiencing similar episodes.

For the sawfish, there are estimates of only 2000 left in the wild. That makes finding the cause even more critical. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has completed a number of necropsies, but have found no signs of communicable pathogen. Also, specimens taken are negative for bacterial infections. They have also ruled out oxygen, salinity, PH, and temperature of water being the cause.

Fox 4 Meteorologist Andrew Shipley spoke with Dr. Michael Crosby, Laboratory President and CEO at Mote Marine Lab about the efforts to find the cause and potentiality rescue sawfish.

“I think as we zero in on sawfish and as I said we have been recently collecting these tissue samples and blood samples, I think what we learn through this effort is going to have impacts across these other species as well” said Dr. Crosby. “If we can identify that causative agent.’

Dr. Crosby adds that, if necessary, MOTE and other agencies are preparing quarantine facilities to accommodate rescued sawfish so they can be rehabilitated and later released.

“We are eager to aid in the effort to help this endangered species, and we will do everything we can to prioritize the well-being of sawfish,” said Dr. Kathryn Flowers, Mote Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Mote’s lead scientist for this initiative. “We have quarantine facilities ready to accommodate rescued sawfish where they would be under observation by qualified personnel under specific care and release guidelines. Attempts to solve this mystery call for robust collaboration.”

You are asked if you see a sawfish, healthy, sick, injured, or dead to contact FWC. They can be reached at 844-4-sawfish or 844-472-9327 or via email at