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SeaWorld Orlando Celebrates the Birth of Endangered Sawfish Pups

By Tonya Wiley, Havenworth Coastal Conservation

In October, SeaWorld Orlando announced the birth of three smalltooth sawfish pups, marking a historic achievement in global conservation for this endangered species as the only aquarium in the United States showcasing smalltooth sawfish and only the second worldwide to have a successful birth. The two females and one male were born on July 11, 2023, and each measured approximately two feet in length. Following their birth, the pups underwent a comprehensive examination, and continue to receive regular check-ups to ensure their sustained health and expected developmental progress. 

Dr. Joseph Gaspard, Vice President of Zoological Operations at SeaWorld Orlando said, “The birth of smalltooth sawfish at SeaWorld Orlando marks a significant achievement, as we become the second aquarium globally to have this success. This is an extraordinary success in the realm of sawfish conservation, and it is our privilege to provide world-class care for this critically endangered species. The birth of these smalltooth pups allows for a greater understanding of how to turn the tide on the declining sawfish populations and spread the message of education to our millions of guests that visit each year.”

“The birth of smalltooth sawfish in captivity for just the second time, and the first within the United States, is historic. These young sawfish will provide a great opportunity for researchers and aquarists to learn more about juvenile growth and development. But equally important, this will be a chance for the public to witness and develop an understanding of these majestic creatures. It is through these opportunities that greater conservation can be achieved”, says Adam Brame, Sawfish Recovery Coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).  

Despite their shark-like appearance, smalltooth sawfish are actually rays, showcasing gills and mouths on their undersides. Named for their saw-like rostrum, smalltooth sawfish inhabit tropical seas and estuaries in the Atlantic Ocean, favoring shallow coastal waters, and occasionally venturing into freshwater river systems, notably in Florida’s coastal areas. While these younglings continue their growth, they’ll receive meticulous care from SeaWorld’s Aquarium Team at the Aquarium Health Center, remaining behind the scenes as they grow and develop under world-class supervision.

Two adult smalltooth sawfish reside at SeaWorld Orlando and have been housed at SeaWorld parks since the 1980s. These sawfish currently reside in the 700,000-gallon Shark Encounter main habitat and boast the title of the largest fish in the park. In late May, SeaWorld Orlando’s dedicated aquarist and veterinary teams discovered through ultrasound that the female sawfish was pregnant. Recognizing the significance of this development, the female sawfish was relocated to the Aquarium Health Center, an environment where she was able to be closely monitored through the birth of the pups. SeaWorld Orlando is honored to have facilitated the pregnancy and birth in its indoor aquarium, with generated lighting and pristine saltwater conditions. This showcases the unwavering dedication of the aquarium team in providing the best care to aquatic animals, while encouraging marine life conservation and education. 

Smalltooth sawfish have been protected by the Endangered Species Act since 2003, following a significant decline in population from habitat loss and mortality in fisheries. This is the only species of sawfish to be found in United States waters, making the birth of the three pups even more meaningful. Entities that house sawfish, including SeaWorld Orlando, have a serious interest in gaining a greater understanding of all sawfish reproduction to strengthen their impact in helping the declining population. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums has created the Sawfish Species Survival Plan to help facilitate the future reproductive success of these animals. 

To see the full announcement video visit https://www.facebook.com/seaworldorlando/videos/593449939496582

sawfish being measured

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