Above: Team Sawfish - October 2012

Below: Murdoch researcher Jeff Whitty on some reckless killing of baby sawfish in Western Australia

Bunuba, Gooniyandi and Nyikina-Mangala Rangers with Freshwater Fish Group researchers at Geikie Gorge, August 2012. 



We tagged both Freshwater Sawfish and Dwarf Sawfish in the Fitzroy River during 2012. One Freshwater Sawfish swam over 100km in 36 hours!

Thanks to the Nyikina-Mangala Rangers, Bunuba rangers, Gooniyandi Rangers and people of the Kimberley for assisting with the project. Thanks to the State NRM for funding the project.


During  2011, Team Sawfish tagged ~150 Freshwater Sawfish and 1 Bull Shark in the Fitzroy River. 

A big wet season has provided Freshwater Sawfish pups with safe habitats and resulted in a boom. 

It's looking like the best year for baby sawfish since we began monitoring in 2001.

It is also a good year for barra and cherabin.

The Barrage may be impacting on these species as they all migrate upstream and become croc, shark and people food below the dam.

Over the next few weeks we plan to tag more.....and avoid the crocs. 


Sawfish surveys began in 2001, and tagging commenced in the Fitzroy River in  2003, and since that time almost 400 sawfish have been tagged (some with acoustic tags attached to the dorsal fish (pictured below)).  All four Australian sawfish species can be found in the Kimberley and northern Pilbara.  These include the Narrow Sawfish (Anoxypristis cuspidata), the Green Sawfish (Pristis zijsron), the Dwarf Sawfish (Pristis clavata) and the Freshwater Sawfish (Pristis microdon).  All are protected in Western Australian waters, and the three Pristis sp. are protected under the EPBC Act 1999.

Our research team, which includes the Nyikina-Mangala Rangers (formerly Yiriman Rangers), tags sawfish in the Fitzroy River and King Sound biannaully.

We started out surveying the fishes of the Fitzroy River in 2001 and, with the help of the Kimberley Land Council and Kimberley Language Research Centre, we recorded the Indigenous languages of the fishes of this amazing river system.

Fitzroy River: catchment is almost 90,000 km2, and it is largely uncleared. The highly seasonal (and thus predictable) flow and dry periods are important in maintaining the ecology of this unique and biologically and culturally important system.

Our current round is funded through the State NRM, Fisheries Society of the British Isles, Australia and Pacific Science Foundation and National Geographic.  We would like to acknowledge other funding bodies over the last decade, including the Federal Government, WWF, Threatened Species Network, Murdoch University, Aquarium Society of NSW, National Geographic, Fisheries WA, Land & Water Australia, Mitre 10 Derby, the people of the Kimberley.

We have also recently tagged a number of sawfish near the Ashburton River in the Pilbara. We'd really appreciate any information you may have on tagged sawfish.

 Recent Sawfish Publications

Report a sawfish capture



Check out the MESA Website for more information on sawfish.

Also, follow the adventures of Sonya the Sawfish.

Team Sawfish recently appeared on Catalyst,  and we are still getting a run with National Geographic (on Foxtel in Australia).

Email us at: fish@murdoch.edu.au or d.morgan@murdoch.edu.au for more information.

A juvenile (newborn pup) Freshwater Sawfish migrating up the Fitzroy River.  One of the most important nurseries for the species.

 Team Sawfish (Yiriman Rangers and Freshwater Fish Group) with Catalyst crew in June 2007.

Jeff Whitty with a large Freshwater Sawfish in the Fitzroy River. This individual was fitted with a satellite tag in order to see where sawfish go after leaving the safety of the river. 

David Morgan with a Dwarf Sawfish in the tidal waters of the Fitzroy River. 

 A Narrow Sawfish - this is the first record we have of this species in Doctors Creek or near the Fitzroy River in King Sound.

This newborn pup of the Class of '07 was fitted with an acoustic tag with a depth and temperature sensor. You can find out what it did in the study by us here or in the publication in Marine and Freshwater Research.

Yiriman (now Nyikina-Mangala) Rangers Travis Fazeldean and Kimberley Watson attaching an acoustic receiver in the tidal waters of the Fitzroy River. This receiver was first installed in 2007 and was last downloaded in June 2011.

Apparently crocs like bouys!

Nyikina-Mangala Ranger Travis Fazeldean with one of the Class of '11.   Due to a good wet season, new recruits of Freshwater Sawfish are booming in the Fitzroy and may be critical for the survival of the species       in Western Australia.

Why would you! 

The Team discovered these three dried out baby Freshwater Sawfish in July 2010. They had been caught and left to die on the river bank. We estimate that the two small ones were only a few weeks old.

We'd like to thank Noddy for shooting one of our receiver moorings. Fortunately we managed to get the receiver back and download the data on sawfish movements. 

Our sign at the Barrage. It demonstrates the differences between the two sawfish species (Dwarf and Freshwater) that are found within the river. 

Looks like Noddy has been there too. 


The River 

The Flood

The Team 



The Team caught up with Nat Geo's Zeb Hogan for a Monster Fish show.  See the youtube flick below.

What a crack unit!  Team Sawfish June 11, Nyikina-Mangala Rangers and Freshwater Fish Group members tagged a swag of sawfish.

Joy Nuggett was the deserved winner of the Team Sawfish find a logo competion held way back in 2004.  Mangkaja Arts, the Kimberley Land Council and the Freshwater Fish Group (Murdoch Uni) held the competition and were pleased by the level of entries, but there can only be one winner and Joy's magnificant painting of two Freshwater Sawfish from the Fitzroy River was it.  Thanks Joy.

Jeff Whitty downloading one of our acoustic receivers amid other Team members eagerly awaiting news of the movements of our tagged Freshwater Sawfish.

Nicole Phillips taking a tissue sample from a sawfish rostrum. We've had almost 300 donated to the project.  Nicole extracts the DNA and has recently published some of this work. 

Phillips, N.M., Chaplin, J.A., Morgan, D.L. & Peverell, S.C. (2011). Population genetic structure and genetic diversity of three critically endangered Pristis sawfishes in northern Australian waters. Marine Biology 158: 903-915.

The Office


The rig

Gotta know ya rig 

 The Beach!

10+m tides twice daily - biggest in Australia

The Gorge 

Some recent sawfish publications 

Morgan, D.L., Allen, M.G., Bedford, P. & Horstman, M. (2004). Fish fauna of the Fitzroy River in the Kimberley region of Western Australia – including the Bunuba, Gooniyandi, Ngarinyin, Nyikina and Walmajarri Aboriginal names.  Records of the Western Australian Museum 22: 147-161.

Morgan, D.L., Tang, D. & Peverell, S.C. (2010). Critically endangered Pristis microdon (Elasmobranchii), as a host for the Indian parasitic copepod, Caligus furcisetifer Redkar, Rangnekar et Murti, 1949 (Siphonostomatoida): New records from northern Australia. Acta Parasitologica 55(4): 419-423.

Morgan, D.L., Whitty, J.M., Phillips, N.M., Thorburn, D.C., Chaplin, J.A. & McAuley, R. (2011). North-western Australia as a hotspot for endangered elasmobranchs with particular reference to sawfishes and the Northern River Shark. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia 94: 345-358.

Phillips, N.M., Chaplin, J.A., Morgan, D.L. & Peverell, S.C. (2011). Population genetic structure and genetic diversity of three critically endangered Pristis sawfishes in northern Australian waters. Marine Biology 158: 903-915.

Phillips, N., Chaplin, J., Morgan, D. & Peverell, S. (2009). Extraction and amplification of DNA from the dried rostra of sawfishes (Pristidae) for applications in conservation genetics. Pacific Conservation Biology 15: 128-134.

Phillips, N.M., Whitty, J.M., Morgan, D.L., Chaplin, J.A., Thorburn, D.C. & Peverell, S.C. (2009). Freshwater Sawfish (Pristis microdon) movements and population demographics in the Fitzroy River, Western Australia and genetic analysis of P. microdon and Pristis zijsron. Centre for Fish & Fisheries Research (Murdoch University) report to Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts Australian Government.

Thorburn, D.C. & Morgan, D.L. (2005). Threatened fishes of the world: Pristis microdon Latham 1794 (Pristidae). Environmental Biology of Fishes 72: 465-466.

Thorburn, D.C., Morgan, D.L., Rowland, A.J., Gill, H.S. & Paling, E. (2008). Life history notes of the critically endangered dwarf sawfish, Pristis clavata, Garman 1906 from the Kimberley region of Western Australia.  Environmental Biology of Fishes 83: 139-145.

Thorburn, D.C., Morgan, D.L., Rowland, A.J. & Gill, H.S. (2007). Freshwater Sawfish Pristis microdon Latham, 1794 (Chondrichthyes: Pristidae) in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Zootaxa 1471: 27–41.

Whitty, J.M., Morgan, D.L., Peverell, S.C., Thorburn, D.C. & Beatty, S.J. (2009). Ontogenetic depth partitioning by juvenile freshwater sawfish (Pristis microdon: Pristidae) in a riverine environment. Marine and Freshwater Research 60: 306-316.

Whitty, J.M., Phillips, N.M., Morgan, D.L., Chaplin, J.A., Thorburn, D.C. & Peverell, S.C. (2008). Habitat associations of Freshwater Sawfish (Pristis microdon) and Northern River Shark (Glyphis sp. C): including genetic analysis of P. microdon across northern Australia. Centre for Fish & Fisheries Research, Murdoch University report to Australian Government, Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.

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