Dwarf Sawfish, Pristis clavata Garman 1906

Other Names: Leichhardts Sawfish, Queensland Sawfish, Queensland Saw-fish

Dwarf Sawfish, Pristis clavata. Source: Rudie H. Kuiter / Aquatic Photographics. License: All rights reserved


A small endangered sawfish found in shallow coastal waters of northern Australia:

  • Gill openings on the underside
  • Teeth on rostrum extending almost to the base of the rostrum
  • Rostral teeth evenly-spaced
  • Origin of first dorsal fin above or slightly behind pelvic-fin origin
  • Hind margin of caudal fin straight, lower lobe less than half the length of upper lobe
  • Greenish-brown above, underside white; fins sometimes paler than upper body.

  • Cite this page as:
    Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2017, Pristis clavata in Fishes of Australia, accessed 25 May 2024, https://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/3278

    Dwarf Sawfish, Pristis clavata Garman 1906

    More Info


    Known only from the Kimberley coast, WA to Cairns, QLD; tropical; commonly in mangrove and mudflat habitats and up estuaries to freshwater.


    Body elongate shark-like; snout highly modified into a flattened blade-like structure with 18-22 pairs enlarged lateral tooth-like denticles (rostral teeth); rostral teeth slender, with a groove along posterior margins; start near the base of the rostrum where they are slightly closer together; blade broad, not tapering distally; nostrils broad with large nasal flaps; five gill slits situated ventrally on the head; barbels are absent; numerous very small, rounded-oval teeth in pavement pattern forming bands along jaws. Covered by small tooth-like dermal denticles. Two tall, pointed dorsal fins; origin of 1st dorsal over or just slightly forward of origin of pelvic fin; pectoral fins distinct from head; large, broad based, triangular; lower lobe of the caudal fin feeble, less than half the length of the upper lobe; posterior margin of caudal fin almost straight.


    To at least 140cm TL.


    Mostly greenish brown, occasionally yellowish; white ventrally; fins paler.


    Saw-like snout is highly sensitive with electrosensory ampullae of Lorenzini and several major branches of the motion sensory lateral line. It is used to locate, stun and kill prey living on the substrate such as molluscs, crustaceans and fishes.


    Ovoviviparous, eggs are internally fertilised and hatch within the body of the female who gives birth to 3-5 pups.

    Species Citation

    Pristis clavata Garman S. (1906). New Plagiostomia. Bull. Mus. Comp. Zool. 46(11): 201-208, Queensland.


    Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2017



    Dwarf Sawfish, Pristis clavata Garman 1906


    Allen, G.R., Midgley, S.H. & Allen, M. (2002).  Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes of Australia. CSIRO/Western Australian Museum, Perth. 

    Bradney, D.R., Davidson, A., Evans, S.P., Wueringer, B.E., Morgan, D.L. and Clausen, P.D. (2017) Sawfishes stealth revealed using computational fluid dynamics. Journal of Fish Biology 90(4): 1584-1596. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jfb.13255 Abstract

    Compagno L.J.V. & Last P.R (1999) in Carpenter K.E. & Neim V.H. (eds) FAO species identification guide for fishery purposes. The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. Volume 3. Batoid fishes, chimeras and bony fishes part 1 (Elopidae to Linophrynidae). Rome, FAO pp 1397-2068

    Daley, R.K., Stevens, J.D., Last, P.R. & Yearsley, G.K. 2002. Field Guide to Australian Sharks & Rays. Hobart : CSIRO Marine Research 84 pp. (as Pristis microdon)

    Dulvy, N.K., Davidson, L.N.K., Kyne, P.M., Simpfendorfer, C.A., Harrison, L.R., Carlson, J.K. & Fordham, S.V. 2016. Ghosts of the coast: global extinction risk and conservation of sawfishes. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 26: 134-153. DOI: 10.1002/aqc.2525 Open access

    Faria, V.V., McDavitt, M.T. Charvet, P., Wiley, T.R., Simpfendorfer, C.A. & Naylor, G.J.P. 2012. Species delineation and global population structure of critically endangered sawfishes (Pristidae). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 167: 136-164 DOI: 10.1111/j.1096-3642.2012.00872x 

    Harrison, L.R. & Dulvy, N.K. (eds). 2014. Sawfish: A Global Strategy for Conservation. IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Shark Specialist Group, Vancouver, Canada, 116 pp.

    Ishihara H, Shimizu M, Sano M, Baba O & Last PR (1991) Record of Pristis clavata Garman from the Pentecost River, Western Australia, with brief notes on its osmoregulation, and comments on the systematics of the Pristidae. University Museum, University of Tokyo, Nature and Culture 3: 43-53.

    Last, P.R. & Stevens, J.D. 2009. Sharks and Rays of Australia. Collingwood : CSIRO Publishing Australia 2, 550 pp.

    Merrick, J.R. & Schmida, G.E. (1984). Australian Freshwater Fishes. Biology and Management. Griffin Press, Netley, South Australia

    Morgan, D.L., Allen, M.G., Bedford, P. & Horstman, M. (2002). Inland Fish Fauna of the Fitzroy River Western Australia, including the Bunuba, Gooniyandi, Ngarinyin, Nyikina and Walmajarri Aboriginal names. Report to the Natural Heritage Trust: 56 pp.

    Morgan, D.L., Allen, M.G., Bedford, P. & Horstman, M. (2004). Fish fauna of the Fitzroy River in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia – including the Bunuba, Gooniyandi, Ngarinyin, Nyikina and Walmajarri Aboriginal names.Records of the Western Australian Museum 22: 147-161.

    Morgan, D.L., Whitty, J.M., Phillips, N.M., Thorburn, D.C., Chaplin, J.A. & McAuley, R. 2011. North-western Australia as a hotspot for endangered elasmobranchs with particular reference to sawfishes and the Northern River Shark. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia 94:345-358.

    Peverell, S.C. 2008. Sawfish (Pristidae) of the Gulf of Carpentaria, Queensland, Australia. School of Marine Biology, James Cook University.

    Phillips, N.M. 2012. Conservation genetics of Pristis sawfishes in Australian waters. PhD thesis. Murdoch University.

    Phillips, N., Chaplin, J., Morgan, D. & Peverell, S. 2009. Extraction and amplification of DNA from the dried rostra of sawfishes (Pristidae) for applications in conservation genetics. Pacific Conservation Biology 15: 128–134. 

    Phillips, N.M., Chaplin, J.A., Morgan, D.L. & Peverell, S.C. 2011. Population genetic structure and genetic diversity of three critically endangered Pristis sawfishes in Australian waters. Marine Biology 158: 903-915.

    Phillips, N.M., Chaplin, J.A., Peverell, S.C. & Morgan, D.L. 2016. Contrasting population structures of three Pristissawfishes with different patterns of habitat use. Marine and Freshwater Research 68: 452-460. https://doi.org/10.1071/MF15427Abstract

    Phillips NM, Fearing A, Morgan DL (2017) Genetic bottlenecks in Pristis sawfishes in northern Australian waters. Endangered Species Research32:363-372. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00815 Open access

    Thorburn, D.C., Peverell, S., Stevens, J.D., Last, P.R. & Rowland, A.J. (2003). Status of Freshwater and Estuarine Elasmobranchs in Northern Australia. Report to the Natural Heritage Trust: 79 pp. 

    Thorburn, D.C., D.L. Morgan, A.J. Rowland & H.S. Gill. (2004). Elasmobranchs in the Fitzroy River, Western Australia. Report to the Natural Heritage Trust. 29 pp.

    Whitty, J.M., Phillips, N.M., Thorburn, D.C., Simpfendorfer, C.A., Fielde, I., Peverell, S.C. & Morgan, D.L. 2014. Utility of rostra in the identification of Australian sawfishes (Chondrichthyes: Pristidae). Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 24: 791–804.

    Quick Facts

    CAAB Code:37025004

    Conservation:IUCN Critically Endangered

    Depth:0-25 m

    Habitat:Marine, estuarine, freshwater

    Max Size:140 cm TL

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    CAAB distribution map