Is A Sawfish A Shark or Ray? [Explained]

The sawfish is an unusual sea creature with an elongated, saw-like rostrum that can be used to sense its prey and defend against predators. While the sawfish looks like a combination of a shark and a ray, but it actually is a Ray.

Sawfish are part of the ray family (Raja) and have many characteristics that make them unique compared to other species (such as a cartilaginous skeleton similar to sharks, a disproportionate dorsal fin compared to other rays, and a unique ‘saw).’

These fish inhabit a variety of marine environments in subtropical and tropical waters around the world. The saw of sawfish has enlarged electroreceptive organs called ampullae of Lorenzini. This special organ helps sawfish in feeding as well as detecting changes in water pressure which also assists them in self-defense.

With an unfortunate decline in global population due to overfishing, illegal fishing, habitat destruction, and more recently, bycatch from trawl fisheries, these amazing creatures are now highly endangered (demanding immediate conservation intervention from global authorities).

Where Did the Name ‘Sawfish’ Come From?

I mentioned earlier that Sawfish is a type of ray-finned fish with a distinct and recognizable feature. A serrated saw protruded from the front of their snouts. This unusual feature can be used to slash through food or attack predators. And it has been assumed for centuries that its strangely appropriate name has some connection to this.

In truth, this particular species was given its nickname due to the similarity of the sharp snout to the classic shape of a handsaw. This peculiarity has earned them an uncommonly unique spot in the animal world, long regarded as both mysterious and majestic.

Can A Sawfish Hurt You?

Sawfish (typically residing in the tropical and subtropical coastal waters of the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific) don’t show their aggressiveness randomly. Usually, they don’t hurt you, but they can cause severe injury.

Note: If you have a fishing affinity or you are a fisherman, then you need to take caution to protect yourself while releasing fish.

sawfish on hand

These aquatic creatures are an impressive sight to behold with their long snout equipped with sharp teeth. However, before assuming that these creatures can be dangerous to humans, it is essential to note that sawfish prefer shallow waters and often subsist on mollusks and crustaceans.

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Furthermore, though capable of inflicting some harm if annoyed, but the sawfish have docile natures and primarily use their rostra for hunting prey rather than attacking humankind.

Warning: While swimming or wading in waters where they reside, it is important to take care, but there is minimal risk that a sawfish will hurt you.

Is A Sawfish A Shark or A Ray?

Already, we answered that sawfish is a strange creature that looks like a shark but is classified as a ray. Its name is derived from the distinctively long and flat rostrum, or nose extension, which looks like the cutting blade of a saw and can be up to 1/3 of its entire body length.


Contrary to what many believe, sawfish are not considered sharks. It is because they have different gill slits on either side of their heads and are closer together than those found on sharks.

Additionally, unlike true sharks, the bodies of most sawfish species are flattened rather than rounded; there is also evidence indicating that (unlike sharks) these creatures form social matriarchies within each population.

As an apex predator in tropical marine environments worldwide, it is important to protect the sawfish’s dwindling population and monitor their habitats for habitat destruction caused by human activities such as overfishing and coastal development.

Why Is a Sawfish A Ray and Not a Shark?

Sawfish, while they may look reminiscent of sharks with their long, thin bodies and wide snouts equipped with sharp spines, are classified as rays. These fish differ from their shark cousins in several ways, including the nature of the skeleton that gives them structure.


While sharks have cartilaginous skeletons, sawfish possess a more rigid structure due to their modified plated skeleton made from a hardened material between their scales.

Sawfish also display incredibly adapted features, such as an extra sense organ that helps them detect buried prey in the sand and unique organelles for detecting electric signals to communicate with other sawfish!

Even though they are closely related to sharks regarding appearances, there is ample evidence pointing to why sawfish should be classified as rays instead.

Why Do Sawfish Look Like Sharks?

Sawfish and sharks may have similar features, but they couldn’t be more different. Despite being erroneously called a shark, sawfish are rays instead.

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These unusual fish developed buzzing blade-like extensions on the sides of their heads for two reasons: to protect and to discern potential prey from their environment.

For sawfish, the sightless waters of bay and estuaries offered plenty of hiding places for small fish but not many ways to sense them. The long rostrum becomes an extension of their eyes, allowing them to scan for fish that may be hiding in or under sand or silt.

This retractable sensory organ gives them an edge when it comes to hunting. Moreover, sawfish use their rostrums to protect against predators; they can spar with larger opponents in desperate attempts at survival.

As such, this adaptation, combined with their distinct snout, makes sawfish unique compared to most other fish species!

Difference Between Sawfish and Sawshark: Sawfish Vs Sawshark

Sawfish and sawshark may look similar at first glance due to the flat, wide snouts with teeth protruding along their edges. However, these two fish species have distinct differences that set them apart. Sawfish have large ray-like bodies with sharp fins, while sawsharks can more accurately be described as shark-like.

Additionally, sawfish rely predominantly on their rostrum to hunt for prey by agitating the substrate and sensing for buried prey items and using it occasionally as a weapon in defense. In contrast, sawsharks primarily use their snout as a hunting organ by sweeping side to side in front of them, weakening and confusing smaller animals.


 To further differentiate between species, sawfish inhabit warm shallow waters near rivers and estuaries. At the same time, the larger variety of sawsharks found in the ocean generally resides in depths up to hundreds of meters.

These two intriguing species attract many admirers despite being critically endangered, so understanding their differences is vital in helping preserve both populations in the future.

Why Can’t You Take a Sawfish Out of The Water?

Sawfish is a species of fish that inhabit the warm, shallow waters of oceans worldwide. They have distinct saw-like snouts filled with thousands of small sharp teeth and can grow up to 9 feet in length.

Although they look dangerous, sawfish prefer to eat their prey using electron sensing rather than from bites.

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This unique anatomy makes them one of the most endangered species in the world. It explains why it is so important not to take them out of the water without proper permits or special equipment.

Their unique shape and size make them unable to breathe out of the water like a typical fish can, and without specialized tools for measuring or weighing, you can cause permanent harm or even death to these amazing creatures.


Is saw fish a true fish?

Yes, sawfish are a true fish species and belong to the Pristidae family.

What should you do if you catch a sawfish?

If you catch a sawfish, it is important to release it back into the water as soon as possible. Do not take them out of the water or keep them captive without proper permits.

How many species of sawfish are there?

There are currently five recognized species of sawfish, all belonging to the Pristidae family. These include smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata), largetooth sawfish (Pristis pristis), green sawfish (Pristis zijsron), and dwarf sawfish.

How big do sawfish grow?

Sawfish can grow up to 9 feet in length and weigh up to 350 lbs. Smaller species, such as the dwarf sawfish (Pristis clavata), typically reach a maximum size of 5-6 feet.

Are they endangered?

Yes, sawfish are an endangered species, and their population is steadily decreasing due to poaching and illegal fishing. It is important that we all do our part in protecting these amazing marine creatures by reducing pollution and supporting conservation efforts.


To sum up, the question “Is a sawfish a shark or ray?” is both intriguing and complex. The truth is that the sawfish, scientifically known as Pristiformes, is actually a species of rays.

Although they may have shark-like characteristics like an elongated nose and many sharp teeth, their unusual fins demonstrate their true identity.

Despite centuries of confusion surrounding its exact genetic makeup, there is now no doubt that the sawfish belongs to the family of cartilaginous fishes known as rays.

As scientists continue to explore and observe these incredible ocean creatures, we can only hope the mystery behind them continues to expand our knowledge.

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