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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Creature Feature: Sawfish.

Once upon a time, an evil genius wanted sharks with laser beams attached to their heads. After being frozen, the sharks he wanted became endangered, and since that red tape would have been a mess to deal with, he wound up with no laser-bearing sharks. Until...



For those of us who cannot afford frickin' sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads, here's a shark with a chainsaw on its nose:






Technically, that's a sawfish (genus Pristis), not a sawshark, but it's still a neat-looking chondrichthian. Sawfish are found in the sub-tropical areas of the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific oceans, and can cross freely between bodies if salt and fresh water. It lives in muddy water and is nocturnal. Depending on the species, sawfish can get anywhere from 4.6 to 23 feet (7 meters) long.

That sawlike nose is not a bad Photoshop job - it's the sawfish's main sensory organ. Like the ridiculous-looking duck bill on a platypus, it is used to feel around for prey in the mud. The spikes on the sides of the saw impale whatever they flush out and need to be cleaned every so often. When sawfish are born, the rostrum is covered by a membrane that prevents the mini-saws from cutting up the mother as the baby rays make their exit.
Imagine this coming out your rear end. You're welcome.

All sawfish and sawsharks are critically endangered. Overfishing and difficulty of cultivation in captivity are the main causes. Some fishers collect the rostra as novelties and believe that the fish put up a good fight once hooked. Fins from sawfish supposedly make the best shark fin soup, and the liver is used in traditional Asian medicine. They cannot grow quickly enough to meet the demand for their body parts.
 
The overall strangeness of the sawfish has made it a staple in popular culture. The Aztecs called it an 'earth monster' (so where's its giant immortal thing, 5D's?).  As mentioned earlier, Asian cultures use it for food and exorcism. It is uncommon in works set under the sea and is usually used as a tool due to its crazy sawlike rostrum.

Riddle me this, Dr. Evil: If nature can't sustain a shark-like ray with a saw on its nose, what makes you think that lasers on a shark's head would work?

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