Few people will ever spot a critically endangered smalltooth sawfish in the wild, but Florida resident Jason Bihari has been lucky enough to encounter more than one. His most recent chance meeting with one of these rare creatures, however, took an unexpected turn when he noticed a bungee cord wrapped around the animal's head. 

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Image: Jason Bihari/Facebook

Bihari discovered the entangled sawfish during a weekend hunting trip in Charlotte Harbor, about 100 miles south of Tampa. Excited by the rare sighting, he and his hunting buddies leaned out to snap a quick photograph – and only then did they notice the fish's hazardous marine-debris "accessory".  

As a long-time recreational fisherman and outdoorsman, Bihari knew that intervening without expert help wasn't the right move: sawfish are easily stressed, and they can be dangerous if startled or mishandled. Instead, he immediately took to social media and reached out to local wildlife officials. 

"I wondered how many people wouldn't have taken the time," he wrote on Facebook. "We made six or seven phone calls before we could actually get a person [to come out on a] Saturday. I didn't think for a second not to." 

With assistance from Florida Fish and Wildlife personnel, Bihari managed to cut the sawfish free later that afternoon. To prevent injury to both the animal and its human helpers, the fish's toothy rostrum (saw) was immobilised with a pole snare during the rescue operation.

"It was cool, but also a little sad," Bihari said of the experience. "The fish didn't have a lot of fight in it."


The cord had likely been in place for some time, as it had cut deep into the sawfish's tissues. It's hard to say what would have happened to the animal without Bihari's intervention, but given the cord's position, it could very likely have hindered the fish's ability to breathe or feed in the long run.

With any luck, this sawfish will now make a full recovery, aided by the remarkable healing abilities possessed by her species.

The success of the rescue mission is all the more exciting given the size of this particular individual. Fully grown smalltooth sawfish can reach an impressive 5.4 metres (18ft), and while Bihari's find is certainly still a youngster in comparison, the juvenile appeared to be well on its way to adulthood.

Scientists estimate that it takes female sawfish a decade to reach maturity, and Charlotte Harbor is a known smalltooth-sawfish nursery. This sizeable female points to a healthy new generation growing up in the area – a glimmer of hope for a group of animals that's still inching its way back from the brink of extinction. What's more, the freed sawfish has been seen since the rescue, in reportedly good condition. 

"I got an update from a local guide, and she's doing [well]," added Bihari. 

Images: Jason Bihari/Facebook
Images: Jason Bihari/Facebook


Top header image: Sandra Raredon, Smithsonian Institution/Wikimedia Commons