As I write this we are all stuck inside due to COVID-19. Many things have surged in popularity due to their release at just the right moment to entertain the masses at home. Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons TM video game is one such phenomenon. You build your own house and island from the ground up, designing even the most minute details. Granting many a sense of control and achievement when their lives are so uncertain. Throughout your journey, you can interact with many animals which you are able to catch to display or sell. Though all the characters in the game are animals soooo I’m not sure how it’s determined what species are sentient and which are not… But that’s not why we are here. The rarest fish in the game you are able to catch is of course sharks. Four species are available; the White shark (Carcharodon Carcharias), the Whale (Rhincodon typus), the “Hammerhead” which is believed to be a Scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini), and the “sawshark” which is believed to be the Japanese Sawshark Pristiophorus japonicu. Interestingly, all of these species can be found in Japan where the game’s developers are based.


old sawfish sketch
Sketch of a Sawshark

Three of the four species are well known to the general public and are often featured in photos or documentaries due to their unique attributes. However, the sawshark is less well known. Sawsharks belong to the order Pristiophoriformes and there are currently only 8 known species. All of which are ovoviviparous, meaning the eggs hatch inside the mother’s body and continue development before birth. The Japanese Sawshark featured in the game is found off the coasts of Japan, Korea, and China. It is a benthic species, meaning it lives on the bottom, at depths of 160- 2500 ft. Its saw, or rostrum has 24–44 teeth, which it swings side to side to stun prey, such as crustaceans, before feeding. From a conservation standpoint, the species is data deficient but believed to be healthy. Their numbers have dropped due to continued commercial harvest, for their meat.


Smalltooth sawfish in Florida. Photo © John Dickinson
Smalltooth sawfish in Florida. Photo © John Dickinson

Sawsharks are often confused with sawfish, a large species of ray. While similar there are some key differences. Sawsharks are sharks and have gill opening on the sides of their body, while sawfishes have their gill opening on their ventral side (bottom). Sawsharks are also considerably smaller than sawfishes, reaching only 5 feet in length. The largest sawfish can be over 20 feet long. Sawsharks live in deep offshore waters in many parts of the world while sawfish live in shallower coastal waters and even estuaries. Sawshark rostral teeth alternate in size, while sawfish teeth are uniform in length. Sawsharks have a pair of barbels in the middle of their rostrum, much like a catfish, while sawfish lack these entirely. These sensory organs aid in finding prey,

Thanks for reading and have fun racking up some “Bells” for your virtual shark fishing efforts!