rare sawfish deaths, have scientists baffled amid bizarre Florida fish behavior

The smalltooth sawfish, a critically endangered animal, is in even more danger than usual in the Florida seas. Six of the rare creatures washed up dead in the past seven days, officials reported Wednesday  a dramatic increase in mortality amid a mysterious die-off that has baffled scientists for months.

These animals that look like a shark with a chainsaw-like mouth, are a part of a group of fish called elasmobranchs that include rays, skates and sharks, and they can live for several decades under normal circumstances. Typically, about five mature adults are lost each year, mostly when they are accidentally caught in fisheries.

But so far this year, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said they’ve lost 38, according to Wednesday’s report, six of which came in just the previous week.

It is still a mystery as to why the sawfish have been dying in record numbers. But divers and anglers have also reported seeing a variety of other species behaving in a highly erratic manner: spinning in circles rather than swimming. Some sawfish, too, have been spotted spinning before dying.

Spinning fish reports began in fall 2023. The spike in sawfish mortalities began in January 2024. It’s “possible that these two events could be related,” the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says.

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