Sawfish deaths rise as experts look to solve Florida mystery

By Rob Hotakainen | 04/19/2024 01:42 PM EDT

Scientists are puzzled why so many fish in the Florida Keys have been spinning themselves to death. There’s no evidence yet it’s related to warming.

An endangered smalltooth sawfish swims along the ocean floor.

Endangered smalltooth sawfish, marine creatures virtually unchanged for millions of years, have been exhibiting erratic spinning behavior and dying in unusual numbers in Florida waters. NOAA via AP

As the official death toll hit 41 this week, fisheries experts were still trying to determine why so many sawfish in the Florida Keys have been acting erratically, swimming in circles as they spin themselves to death.

“I’ve definitely not seen anything like this in my career,” said Adam Brame, NOAA Fisheries’ sawfish recovery coordinator since 2015. “We get some mortalities reported to us every once in a while, but nothing of this scale and magnitude.”

Officials said they suspect that the number of mortalities will go much higher than what’s already been confirmed.


“It’s the tip of the iceberg because many if not most sawfish that will have died will never be recovered or identified,” said Michael Crosby, president and chief executive officer of the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Florida.