a group of people standing around a blue pool
Despite an exhaustive collaborative effort to rehabilitate a distressed sawfish rescued from the Lower Keys, the decision was eventually made to euthanize the animal as its condition deteriorated. CONTRIBUTED

A distressed smalltooth sawfish originally rescued in early April passed away on May 2 after a month of exhaustive rehabilitation efforts, Mote Marine Laboratory announced in a press release.

The sawfish was originally rescued on April 5 when Mote Marine Laboratory and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) responded to a call reporting the animal swimming in circles in Cudjoe Bay in the Florida Keys. Immediately after rescue, it was transported to an interim holding tank at Mote’s Lower Keys facility, which gave the team a temporary area where they were able to stabilize the animal. On April 11, after several days of treatment and monitoring, a team of sawfish experts and veterinarians determined that the animal appeared capable of withstanding the several-hour drive to another Mote quarantine facility in Sarasota designed to provide more extensive rehabilitation treatment for sawfish. 

After transport by Ripley’s Aquariums, the animal was treated at Mote’s extensive quarantine and rehabilitation facility from April 11 to May 2. The team worked tirelessly to improve the animal’s condition in hopes it could eventually be released back into its natural environment. Under guidance by NOAA and FWC, the decision was made to humanely euthanize the sawfish when the animal’s condition deteriorated.

“It was always our cautious hope to be able to utilize the best available science for the rehabilitation and release of the sawfish,” said Michael P. Crosby, president & CEO of Mote. “Although heartbreaking, this outcome was not surprising. Mote’s several decades of active rescue and rehabilitation efforts have taught us that these efforts aren’t always successful in fully rehabilitating compromised stranded animals. Mote has extensive experience treating sick and injured marine wildlife, and we worked restlessly for 24 hours a day to provide the most advanced treatment available. Sadly, even with our best efforts, the animal was ultimately too compromised to recover.”

An effort of this kind had never been attempted before in the United States, and the logistics are complex.

“The Mote, NOAA, FWC and Ripley’s staff exhibited tremendous dedication, compassion, partnership and skill in providing vital care to this animal in need, and are to be commended for their efforts,” said Crosby. “Mote remains committed to providing FWC and NOAA with significant ongoing assistance and support of our expert veterinary and animal husbandry staff and scientists across diverse disciplines, along with our significant specialized marine species quarantine facilities for the rescue and rehabilitation of distressed smalltooth sawfish. This is an unprecedented partnership initiative that is at the core of our mission – using the best available science and technology to rescue, restore, and conserve our precious marine species, habitats, and ecosystems.”

The animal’s cause of distress remains unknown. FWC will perform a necropsy, an animal “autopsy,” to try to learn more. Samples will be collected and sent to labs for further analysis. Necropsies do not always determine a cause of death, and it could take weeks or months to get a full picture of the animal’s condition.

The team will continue to respond to distressed sawfish reports and attempt additional rescue efforts when warranted and as requested by FWC and NOAA. Each opportunity to respond provides a chance to learn as much as possible about these critically distressed sawfish and understand more about applying novel approaches to safely capture and rehabilitate these animals.

How can the public assist?

  • Report all sawfish observations (healthy, sick, injured, or dead) to 844-472-9347 or
  • Report abnormal fish behavior and fish kills to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish Kill Hotline at 800-636-0511 or 

How can the public help support the Sawfish Rescue Initiative?Please go to