October 25, 2016

The rescue team: Amos Shields, Christy Davies, Aaron Green, Peter Kyne and Rob Lindsay. Image: Michael Lawrence-Taylor

Last month a Marine Biodiversity Hub team set out on a collaborative ‘search and rescue mission’ for threatened Largetooth Sawfish (Pristis pristis).

The trip brought together researchers from Charles Darwin University Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods, the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance Ltd (NAILSMA), and Malak Malak Rangers (the Indigenous land management group for Malak Malak country in the Northern Territory’s Daly River region).

The Largetooth Sawfish is a vulnerable ray that grows to seven metres in length. Young sawfish are born at river mouths and migrate upstream to spend their juvenile years in freshwater. As adults they return to their natal rivers to pup.

A previous research partnership discovered that juvenile Largetooth Sawfish sometimes become trapped in isolated floodplain waterholes and may die if the waterholes dry up before the next wet season. The Malak Malak community suggested conducting an annual search for trapped sawfish as a locally driven conservation measure.

This year the team visited seven sites in the Daly River region, including two not previously sampled. Despite a high fishing effort, no sawfish were caught. There will be another opportunity to see the sawfish soon though, when the Malak Malak Rangers join their colleagues the Yugul Mangi Rangers and the Numbulwar Numburindi Rangers on a sawfish tagging mission on the Roper River near Ngukurr.

Through this project the Malak Malak Rangers will be better equipped to do this kind of work in the future, and will try the search and rescue again next year. In the meantime the team is working on ways to spread the message about conserving sawfish, so keep an eye out for more news.

See more about NAILSMA activities here: https://www.facebook.com/North-Australian-Indigenous-Land…/…

Hub researcher Peter Kyne searches a small pool for sawfish. Peter Kyne searches a small pool for sawfish. This site was previously found to contain nine juvenile sawfish, and is the location featured in this ‘Sawfish rescue’ video.

Gill netting for Largetooth SawfishGill netting is one method used to safely capture Largetooth Sawfish. Image: Michael Lawrence-Taylor 

Malak Malak rangers Amos and Aaron.Amos and Aaron take a quick break between setting and checking the nets. Image: Michael Lawrence-Taylor

Recording water quality measurements.Recording water quality measurements. Image: Michael Lawrence-Taylor

Trying to herd Largetooth Sawfish towards the nets.The team tries to ‘herd’ any animals present toward the nets . . . not a bad office! Image: Michael Lawrence-Taylor