It was in the early spring of 2017. Md. Ali, a local fisher of St. Martins island was telling me about his encounter with a large monster of the sea who crashed his boat with a massive push and let him float for about two hours with his fellow fishers on that cold winter night which happened about more than 15 years ago, on his young age. Later, a fishing boat rescued them that night. According to him, the monster was enormously huge, wide enough as a boat. However, why was it a monster even if it did not touch them while they were floating? Is it because of the local myths, which let that creature to think as a monster? Monster of the sea or the angel of the ocean? What should be this creature called?
Later in 2017, when I was in Pirojpur for my thesis project I got in touch with the same myth again. The myth of a sea monster, the huge one with a saw on its upper head! Abdul Kader, an aged angler from Balipara, Pirojpur was telling me the story. He encountered a huge shark-like fish with a large rostrum during fishing inside the Sundarbans on monsoon 1988. The fish suddenly went inside the canals of the forest. It was the largest fish that he ever encountered in his whole life.
Sawfish! They are world’s one of the most threatened species. Due to the presence of large saw-like nostril, they are called “Saw Fish”. In Bangladesh, they are commonly known as “Korat mach” or “Khotok”. Their saw-like rostrum considered as their “Achilles heel”. Due to this toothed rostrum, they easily get tangled in fishing nets, especially in gill nets.
In 2017, luckily got a chance to work as a volunteer for WildTeam in Cox’s Bazar and St. Martin’s Island. We were surveying for elasmobranch catches and specifically looking for this threatened sawfish. From Cox’s Bazar to St. Martin’s Island, we recorded various shark and ray species but unfortunately, no sawfish. As it is being listed in the IUCN Red List, I did not hope much to record any saw. Later I went to southwest Bangladesh working for my thesis project. I was specifically looking for sharks and rays, recorded their catch data. Nevertheless, nature astonished me with a hidden surprise, which I did not hope to find there. On a regular interview session with the local fishers, got to know about a fish with large rostrum that was being caught by them three months ago near to the Sundarbans. With immense curiosity, I asked them several questions about the morphology of that species and they were giving accurate information. To my utter surprise, one of them bring the saw-like rostrum after a while and then I believed.
Yes, I have encountered the first ever saw of an unfortunate sawfish in my whole life on that day, 17 March 2017. It was one of the most magnificent marine creatures that I have ever encountered. Ten landing data of this endangered fish recorded during my one-year thesis project from a small port of this southwest region and all of them were Large-tooth Sawfish. Local people believe in a myth that the meat of sawfish has magical powers to treat cancer, which is why they preorder for this exclusive fish. Large-tooth Sawfish is one of the five sawfishes listed in IUCN Red List. Low reproductive rate, slow growth, habitat destruction and overfishing are threatening to their existence. Very little is known about their existence history and habitat in Bangladesh. Data deficiency is one of the basic reasons behind their number-dropping situation. Bangladesh needs to adopt effective measures, awareness campaign to let this majestic creature establish as a natural jewel in the community, not as a monster.
Sabrina Sabbir, a WildTeam volunteer
Link of the published scientific article on Sawfish