Cairns Marine is renowned worldwide for our capacity to capture, handle, husband and transport large animals. This capacity also extends to initial stocking of large public aquaria. In essence, we specialise in complete solutions for the needs of the aquarium industry. Most importantly, our solutions are ecologically sustainable and supported by after sales husbandry support and extension information.
This article illustrates our capacity. It’s the story of how a Green sawfish (Pristis zijsron) made the journey from a steamy tropical estuary in northern Australia to the Underwater Adventures Aquarium in Minnesota. This species is now listed on CITES Appendix I but we are still able to supply juvenile specimens of the Freshwater sawfish (P. microdon), which is Appendix II with an annotation specifying conditions around public aquarium supply.
Sawfish are extraordinary animals. The saw, or rostrum, is lined with teeth and used by the animal during feeding. It serves as a foraging instrument in the muddy estuarine sediments and as a feeding weapon. Sawfish favour the shallows where they can lash out at small fish, which are their main food.
This wonderful adaptation is also their downfall as sawfish numbers have declined worldwide due to overfishing. Northern Australia remains one of a few remaining strongholds and Cairns Marine is permitted to take sawfish under strict guidelines to supply public aquarium exhibits that have an important education and awareness-raising role to play in sawfish conservation. Our sawfish journey starts near Weipa on the western side of Cape York in remote northern Australia.
Sawfish country is wild expeditionary country and we must be prepared to catch, care for, and transport our charges such that they remain in peak condition.
A full day of driving brings us to the remote west coast of Cape York. Now we must switch to vessels to get to the tropical estuaries where the sawfish live.
The waters of the tidal estuaries are murky but also rich with life including the healthiest populations of saltwater crocodiles anywhere in the world.
We place our net in a shallow part of the estuary in the late afternoon. Once set, the net is continually monitored to avoid distressing any meshed animals and to avoid by-catch. Onshore the collection team awaits news from the vessel. As soon as a sawfish is captured it must be stabilised and protected such that it can not harm itself (or anyone else) with its formidable rostrum.
Just before midnight we find our target… a young Green sawfish about 90cm long. Cairns Marine director Lyle Squire Jnr. draws the short straw that says he has to get out of the boat to untangle the sawfish. This is serious croc country!
Apart from the crocs, untangling the sawfish is a tricky process due to potential for the sawfish to damage both itself and anything it comes into contact with. To aid in the process Lyle places a felt mask over the animals eyes to calm it down followed by a rostrum protector.
With the animal calm and protected it is now safe to move it into the boat and get Lyle out of the croc water.
Now the sawfish is stabilised in a large plastic tub. Its been a big day!
Back at base camp the crew transfer the animal to an in-water holding pen and perform various checks on the water quality and the temperament of the animal before commencing the journey back to the Cairns Marine holding facility.
Back in the Cairns Marine facility specimens are acclimated to the desired salinity and treated for parasites and any infections that may exist.
For shipment, specimens are consigned in special containers that have been agreed upon with the carrier. Then it is off on the journey to the other side of the world.
For the Underwater World order, Cairns Marine provided a complete solution spanning a range of large specimens, including sharks, rays and large fish. All logistics were handled by Cairns Marine, including collection permits, collecting the animals, handling and husbandry, packing and freight. Cairns Marine retains ownership of the animals until the animals are received at the port of entry to the destination country so the animals receive the highest level of care and arrive in premium condition.
On the tarmac in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Underwater Word staff took control of the consignment ensuring a red carpet ride through the city.
On arrival at Underwater World the precious cargo is revealed with great anticipation.
Quarantine and health checks precede the animals being settled in
After the necessary settling in period two sawfish finally make their debut to the public.
It may be a world away from Weipa but these healthy, beautiful sawfish have now become a centrepiece of Underwater World’s public displays. Hundreds of thousands, soon to be millions, of people now know these bizarre and remarkable creature exist and are under threat.