Sawfish vs. Sawshark: A Quick Guide
Aug 5, 2019 | 3 minute read
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Sawfish and Sawsharks are two of the most unique looking fish in the world. With their distinctively long snouts, and nearly flat bodies, these guys look like nothing else in the ocean. Well, at least not counting each other. Despite being in two completely different families of fish, Sawfish and Sawsharks look nearly identical. So how on earth do you tell if something is a Sawfish vs. Sawshark? That’s exactly what you’re about to learn.

a sawfish

As we mentioned, Sawfish and Sawsharks belong to two different families of fish. Sawfish belong to the Ray family, and Sawsharks are, well, Sharks. 

Where do they live?

These two groups of fish are widespread around the world. Both Sawfish and Sawsharks inhabit tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, Indo-Pacific, and western Pacific oceans. They’re most commonly found around South Africa, Australia, Japan, and the northwestern Caribbean. 

a Japanese Sawshark,
A Japanese Sawshark, Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.5

Sawfish like coastal waters. Both generally tend to keep near the bottom of the seabed, although Sawsharks tend to swim in much deeper waters.

Which is bigger?

The main difference between a Sawfish and a Sawshark is in their size. While Sawsharks usually top out at a modest 5 feet and 19 pounds, Sawfish can grow over 20 feet and weigh over 1,200 pounds!

A Sawshark is relatively small.

What’s the saw for? 

Both Sawfish and Sawsharks use their saw as a weapon. The saws are equipped with a large number of sharp teeth, which the fish use to cut down and incapacitate prey. Using sudden lateral movements, Sawfish can use their saw to cut other fish in half!

That’s not all, however. Sawsharks and Sawfish both have thousands of electroreceptors on their snouts. These sensors, called the Ampullae of Lorenzini, are used to navigate the water and find prey.

The snouts are actually very different on these two fish. While Sawfish have a uniform saw lined with teeth of equal sizes, the saw of a Sawshark has a rather unkempt look about it. 

Sawshark’s teeth alternate between large and small, and there’s a single pair of barbs near the middle of their snout. These whisker-like organs are used to feel the ocean floor for food. Last but not least, Sawsharks have a wedge-shaped saw, as opposed to the narrow, rectangular jaw of the Sawfish.

a sawfish
A Largetooth Sawfish with its evenly shaped saw.

The gills on a Sawshark are located on the sides, like on any other Shark. The gills on a Sawfish are on the underside, which is typical of Rays. 


There are five known species of Sawfish in the world. These are the Narrow, Dwarf, Smalltooth, Largetooth, and Green Sawfish. All of them are endangered species. Apart from Narrow Sawfish, an inhabitant of the Atlantic ocean, all other species of Sawfish live in the Indo-Pacific.

On the other hand, there are six living species of Sawsharks. Thse are the Sixgilll, Longnose, Shortnose, Tropical, Japanese, and Lana’s Sawsharks.

Fun fact: Sawfish fins are a popular choice for Shark soup, even though Sawfish aren’t really Sharks.

What do you think about these two unique looking fish? Have you ever encountered one before? Let us know in the comments below.

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