HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WHLT) – International Sawfish Day is celebrated each year on October 17th to focus on the need for sawfish conservation. The biggest concern for these types of rays is entanglements in fishing nets and changes in their habitat, forcing the species onto the endangered species list.

Sawfish use their saw extension to detect the heartbeats of prey in the water. They then will slash at fish and swim down to the bottom and then eat them. They also use their saw extension to defend themselves from predators like bull sharks and crocodiles. A sawfish can get up to as much as seven meters in length which is bigger than a great white shark.

In the United States, sawfish are historically found in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Carolinas. Today, the core area can be found along Florida. As far as Mississippi, sawfish have been spotted in the Mississippi Sound. Recent encounter reports said the fish have been spotted at Deer Island, Bear Island and the Pascagoula River.

University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Nicole Phillips will be at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson on Oct. 16 and the Mississippi Aquarium in Gulfport on Oct. 17 to discuss the fish.

Phillips serves as vice-president of the Sawfish Conservation Society. She explains that International Sawfish Day provides an opportunity to celebrate the highly threatened, but poorly known sawfish.

“Most people have heard of or know something about whale sharks, white sharks and manta rays. Fewer people know that sawfishes exist or that they are extremely threatened,” said Phillips. “There are also still a lot of unknowns regarding their status in many countries and their biology/ecology. On ISD we put the spotlight on sawfish to educate people around the world about these incredibly unique rays.”

Saturday’s events will be held from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. Sunday’s festivities at Mississippi Aquarium will be held from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Dr. Lauren Fuller, Education Manager at the Mississippi Aquarium, notes that Aquarium staff are eager to raise awareness about the sawfish and their need for conservation.

“Guests will celebrate International Sawfish Day by enjoying educational activities, while they explore our habitats at Mississippi Aquarium,” said Fuller. “They will learn about local sawfish research from the scientists themselves, including reporting protocols. Kids will also get to participate in fun games and activities.”