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SeaWorld Orlando welcomes three endangered smalltooth sawfish fry

SeaWorld Orlando recently welcomed three smalltooth sawfish hatchlings, making it the only aquarium in the U.S. to showcase these marine animals and the second in the world to experience a successful birth, the aquarium said Wednesday.

The cubs, born on July 11, 2023, are two females and one male, SeaWorld Orlando said in a press release. The marine animals, which look like small sharks with their saw-shaped beak bones, are about two feet long.

SeaWorld said the cubs underwent a comprehensive examination after their birth and will continue to be examined regularly to “ensure their continued health and expected developmental progress.” The examinations are essential to save this critically endangered species from extinction.

SeaWorld Orlando welcomed three smalltooth sawfish hatchlings in July 2023, making it the only aquarium in the United States to showcase these marine animals and the second in the world to host a successful birth, the marine center announced on October 18, 2023.

SeaWorld Orlando welcomed three smalltooth sawfish hatchlings in July 2023, making it the only aquarium in the United States to showcase these marine animals and the second in the world to host a successful birth, the marine center announced on October 18, 2023.

What is a smalltooth sawfish?

Smalltooth sawfish are categorized as rays despite their shark-like bodies, which have gills and mouths on the underside, explains the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Department of Fisheries. The marine animals get their name from their distinctive rostrum – a long, flat snout with teeth along the edge – that looks like a saw. They are usually olive-gray to brown on top and have a white underside.

Sawfish get their name from their distinctive rostrum – a long, flat, toothed snout that looks like a saw.Sawfish get their name from their distinctive rostrum – a long, flat, toothed snout that looks like a saw.

Sawfish get their name from their distinctive rostrum – a long, flat, toothed snout that looks like a saw.

Sawfish belong to a group of fish called cartilaginous fish, which also includes rays, skates, and sharks. Cartilaginous fish do not have bones. Instead, their skeleton is made of cartilage.

The young are born fully developed and about 60 cm long. Their sawfish teeth are covered by a thick layer that dissolves within a few days/weeks. This adaptation protects both the mother and the other siblings in the womb.

Smalltooth sawfish typically live in tropical seas and estuaries of the Atlantic Ocean, according to NOAA, and prefer shallow coastal waters. In the U.S., they can be found in the coastal waters of Florida.

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Smalltooth sawfish at SeaWorld Orlando

Two adult smalltooth sawfish have lived at SeaWorld Orlando since the 1980s. The duo currently lives in the 6.5 million-gallon Shark Encounter main habitat and is the park's largest fish.

At the end of May, the Marine Center's veterinary teams discovered through ultrasound that the female sawfish was pregnant. Given the importance of this development, the female sawfish was transferred to the Aquarium Health Center so that she could be closely monitored during the birth of the young.

The aquarium does not plan to put the young animals on display just yet. They will remain behind the scenes while they grow and develop under supervision.

At the end of May, SeaWorld Orlando's veterinary teams determined through ultrasound that the female sawfish was pregnant.At the end of May, SeaWorld Orlando's veterinary teams determined through ultrasound that the female sawfish was pregnant.

At the end of May, SeaWorld Orlando's veterinary teams determined through ultrasound that the female sawfish was pregnant.

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“Historical”

SeaWorld Orlando's vice president of zoological operations, Dr. Joseph Gaspard, released a statement hailing the birth of the cubs as a “significant achievement” and said it was a “privilege” to care for them.

Adam Brame, NOAA's sawfish recovery coordinator, called the births “historic.”

“These juvenile sawfish provide a great opportunity for researchers and aquarists to learn more about juvenile growth and development,” Brame said in a statement. “But equally important, the public has the opportunity to observe and develop an understanding of these majestic creatures. Through these opportunities, better conservation can be achieved.”

A SeaWorld Orlando employee measures the rostrum of a newborn smalltooth sawfish juvenile.A SeaWorld Orlando employee measures the rostrum of a newborn smalltooth sawfish juvenile.

A SeaWorld Orlando employee measures the rostrum of a newborn smalltooth sawfish juvenile.

Protecting the sawfish

The smalltooth sawfish is the only species of sawfish found in U.S. waters that is critically endangered. It was the first marine fish protected under the Endangered Species Act twenty years ago after its population declined sharply due to habitat loss and accidental capture by fishermen.

Efforts are being made to save these species from extinction. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has developed the Sawfish Species Survival Plan to support the future reproductive success of these animals.

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Saman Shafiq is a trending news reporter for USA TODAY. Reach her at sshafiq@gannett.com and follow her on X (formerly Twitter) at @saman_shafiq7.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Three endangered smalltooth sawfish pups born at SeaWorld Orlando

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