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Seasonal use of a macrotidal estuary by the endangered dwarf sawfish, Pristis clavata

Morgan, D.L., Lear, K.O., Dobinson, E., Gleiss, A.C., Fazeldean, T., Pillans, R.D., Beatty, S.J.ORCID: 0000-0003-2620-2826 and Whitty, J.M. (2021) Seasonal use of a macrotidal estuary by the endangered dwarf sawfish, Pristis clavata. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems . Early View.

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Sawfishes (Family: Pristidae) are one of the most imperilled fish families worldwide. There is an increasingly urgent need to better understand the biology, ecology, and population status of the five sawfish species to develop more effective conservation measures. The dwarf sawfish, Pristis clavata, is one of the least researched members of the pristids, with literature limited to analysing disparate datasets or collations of rare encounters in northern Australia.

This study examined the spatial ecology of dwarf sawfish using targeted surveys and acoustic telemetry to determine its habitat use in a macrotidal estuary in northern Australia. Seventeen dwarf sawfish were tagged with acoustic transmitters and monitored in the Fitzroy River estuary and adjacent King Sound (Kimberley, Western Australia) between August 2015 and November 2017.

Dwarf sawfish observed within the Fitzroy River estuary and King Sound were juveniles, ranging between 740 and 2,540 mm in total length. Catch per unit effort of dwarf sawfish in the late dry season was relatively high in the estuary, with the catch rate in 2015 being one of the highest reported for any sawfish species.

Acoustic detections revealed a distinct seasonal pattern in the use of different parts of the estuary and King Sound, which was found to be driven by salinity. Dwarf sawfish predominately occupied a single large pool near the terminus of the tidal limit in the late dry season (August–November), before transitioning to regions in closer proximity to the river mouth or in King Sound in the wet and early dry seasons (December–July).

Given the high abundance and residency of dwarf sawfish in the Fitzroy River estuary, this area is an important nursery for the species during the late dry season and should be formally recognized as a habitat protection area for the species.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): College of Science, Health, Engineering and Education
Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Ecosystems
Harry Butler Institute
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons Inc.
Copyright: © 2021 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
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