We've seen our share of cool drone footage of marine life, and the latest comes our way from the Bahamas, where an aerial camera has just filmed a rarely seen traveller: a critically endangered smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata).

It might not look it from above, but this sawfish is big – really big. For reference, that "small" dark fish you see swimming beside it is a cobia (or black salmon), a fish that averages 35 inches (just under a metre) in length. And believe it or not, the sawfish is likely still growing. The maximum recorded length for a smalltooth sawfish is 24.7 feet (7.6m)!

The largest of the batoid rays, sawfishes are considered at higher risk of extinction than any other group of marine fish, and rampant overfishing has seen giants like these all but disappear. Only two strongholds remain today, one in Australia and the other off North America's southeast coast. 

"Amazingly, this chance encounter is one of two smalltooth sawfish sightings in South Bimini, only a matter of days apart!" says the Bimini Biological Field Station - Sharklab, who captured the footage, in a Facebook post. "It showcases the incredible camouflage these animals have against the seabed, their huge size and of course bizarre head-weaponry."

A jump in sawfish sightings in the area has scientists speculating that the rarely seen animals may be using these waters as a nursery and breeding ground, yet despite their highly threatened status, there are no species-specific regulations that protect them in the Bahamas.

"For almost 20 years, Bimini’s marine environment has been under threat from construction and development, through dredging and mangrove removal," adds the team. "Unique observations of critically endangered animals, like this remarkable sawfish, serve as a timely reminder that Bimini is still an important habitat for some of the world's most threatened large marine vertebrates. It is crucial for their recovery and conservation that we protect the habitats they use."

For more about sawfish, and the threats that they face, check out this story of a resilient rostrum amputee.


Top header image: Rachel Patterson/Flickr