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How to Never Confuse Sawfish & Sawsharks Again

They may look alike, but they're totally different animals.

We've already explained the difference between catsharks and dogfish sharks on Azula, and today we're tackling another super similar sea pair — the sawfish and the sawshark.

The two look incredibly similar, but once you learn what tells them apart, it's actually super easy to see which is which.

Sawfish are part of the skate and ray family, which are closely related to sharks. So sawfish and sawsharks are not the same species, but they are very similar and closely linked.

And they basically look identical.

Both sawsharks and sawfish have long "noses" (called rostrums) that they use to eat. The National Wildlife Federation says that sawfish use their toothy snouts to dig for prey or kill their dinner.

The rostrums also have electricity-sensing pores that help them identify where food may be.

sawfish vs sawshark

Giphy/Rachel Nuwer

According to Oceana, sawsharks use their noses in the exact same way as sawfish and they also have electroreceptors. So where do the differences come in?

To start, Smithsonian reported that sawsharks are only around 5 feet. By contrast, NWF reported that sawfish can be 18 to 23 feet long. Smithsonian reported there are also major differences in their gills.

Because sawfish are rays, they have their gills underneath.

sawfish vs sawshark Wikimedia Commons/Fred Hsu

Sawsharks, like all sharks, have their gills on the sides of their heads.

sawfish vs sawshark Wikimedia Commons/OpenCago

According to Oceana, a sawfish's pectoral fins (its side fins) are also attached to its head. The same is true for other rays like manta rays and stingrays.

You can see that here:

Sawsharks have separate fins like their fellow sharks.

Finally, sawsharks have what are called barbels midway down their rostrums, and sawfish don't.

On sawsharks, these look like little fleshy mustaches and act like cat whiskers.

Here's a close-up view.

According to WildAid's Shark Savers organization, the sawsharks use these sensitive barbels in addition to their rostrums to further detect prey hidden on the sea floor.

Once you know about the differences in gills, fins, and those fleshy barbels, it's easy to tell which is which. It's one less ocean mystery to contend with.

Now ... to solve basically everything else about our great, still mostly unknown ocean.


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