“What happened to his saw,” is a question frequently asked by some of our more observant guests as they look up in the Cenote tunnel exhibit. It is often followed by “will it grow back?” The fish in question is actually a guitarfish. Commonly known as the White-spotted guitarfish (Rhynchobatus djiddensis), the specimen does somewhat resemble the Largetooth sawfish (Pristis microdon), without the “saw.”
Both are members of a group of fishes known as Elasmobranchs. Guitarfish and sawfish are actually very close relatives and are often both referred to as Rays. Both are considered “Batoid” fish because of their bat-like “wings.” Batoid fishes actually make up 56% of the total elasmobranch diversity. Both have bodies and swimming styles similar to sharks, but their mouths and gill openings are on their ventral surface and they both possess “spiracles” or small holes at the tops of their heads that allow the water (and often substrate) to pass through them while they are resting on the bottom.
Adult guitarfish are usually six to seven feet in length but can reach ten feet and weigh more than 450 pounds. The snout is pointed and the interlocking plates of flat, pavement-like teeth found in its small mouth are used for crushing or grinding their food, which includes bivalves, crabs, lobsters, squid and small fish. With age, their upper color darkens from a grayish-green to a darker gray and many of the white spots disappear. Even though they are considered harmless, the two tall dorsal fins and the big scythe-like tail, contribute to their often being mistaken for a shark.
Although not actually a shark, the White-spotted guitarfish (or White-spotted wedgefish as it is also known) is one of the most sought-after elasmobranch species used for shark fin soup. Shark finning is a wasteful practice in which only the fins are removed and retained, and the remaining 95% of the carcass is discarded at sea. Each year tens of millions of sharks are killed for this purpose despite existing Federal and International legislation to prohibit the practice, or limit international trade.