Dangerous Encounters Extreme Fish: Education Worksheet

Video highlights from Dangerous Encounters

Junior and Senior Secondary

PROGRAMME TITLE    Dangerous Encounters with Brady Barr: Extreme Fish

SCHOOL LEVEL    Junior Secondary and Senior Secondary


From America’s deepest gorge to the idyllic Bahamas, dive in with Dr. Brady Barr as he undertakes a mission to better understand one of the planet’s strangest looking fish – the small tooth sawfish. Once common in coastal shallows from North Carolina to the Mexican border, this curious animal is now an endangered. A bottom dweller, it’s easily caught by accident in fishing nets, and has also suffered from habitat destruction.

Researchers have not yet determined the purpose of the saw-like snout nor why the teeth are located outside the fish’s mouth. Hoping to learn more about the fish’s mysterious snout, Brady and his team embark on a mission to track down two other ancient fish with similarly long snouts — the white sturgeon and the paddlefish — for clues that reveal as to the purpose of the sawfish’s saw.


Energetic, enthusiastic Dr Brady Barr is fascinated by the way animals fashion ordinary body parts into unique weapons of survival. Enter the small tooth sawfish. Growing to some six metres in length, its snout – called a rostrum – is studded with razor-sharp teeth, reminiscent of a hedge trimmer. The bizarre looking giant is closely related to sharks, skates and rays. The sawfish spent millions of years perfecting its unique design, and Brady wonders about the purpose of the saw. Why does a fish need teeth outside its mouth?

Extreme Fish celebrates the joy of scientific discovery, and illustrates the collaborative nature of scientific investigation. Choosing a subject that is uniquely curious, poorly understood and endangered, Brady takes his audience on a fascinating aquatic romp from Cape Coral in Southern Florida to Idaho’s Snake River, Grand Lake in Oklahoma and finally to remote, unspoilt Andros Island in the Bahamas.

His goal is to learn more about the sawfish by studying commonalities with other species – the white sturgeon and the paddlefish. Along the way he teams up with marine biologists who generously share knowledge in their particular areas of expertise. Using catch and release tactics, they assist Brady to closely examine rarely seen, ancient fish to help shed light on the sawfish’s mysterious rostrum.

The culmination of Brady’s adventurous research project is to successfully place the first ever satellite tag on a sawfish in the Bahamas. The sawfish’s rostrum has helped it survive ice ages and outlive dinosaurs, but now the future of this unique creature is uncertain. Unlocking the sawfish’s secrets could be the key to its continued survival.


Junior Secondary Curriculum

The science curriculum provides opportunities for students to develop understandings about science and its processes, the scope of its contributions to our culture and society, and its applications in our daily lives. The science curriculum addresses the diverse needs of Australian students by providing them with scientific knowledge, understandings and skills to make informed and responsible personal, social, technological and environmental decisions that impact at the local, national and global levels and to participate, if they so wish, in science-rich careers.
Australian Science K-10 Curriculum 2010: Rationale

Senior Secondary Curriculum

Biology encompasses many specialisations and interdisciplinary fields to explore how life exists, evolves and survives. It spans many organisational levels, from the functioning of whole organisms and their interrelationships, to the nature of cells and macromolecular systems. Biological fields include proteomics, metabolomics, ecology, physiology, biochemistry and genetics.
Australian Biology Curriculum 2010: Rationale


Junior Secondary

In undertaking these tasks, students of Science will develop:

•    an interest in science and a curiosity and willingness to explore, ask questions and speculate about the changing world in which they live
•    an ability to investigate questions about the world using scientific inquiry methods, including questioning, planning and conducting experiments and investigations based on ethical principles, collecting and analyzing data, evaluating results, and drawing critical, evidence-based conclusions
•    an ability to communicate their scientific understandings and findings to a range of audiences, to justify their own ideas on the basis of evidence, and to evaluate and debate scientific arguments and claims whilst respecting alternative viewpoints and beliefs
Australian Science K-10 Curriculum 2010: Aims

Senior Secondary

In undertaking these tasks, students of Biology will:

•    engage in communication of and about biology, value evidence and scepticism, and evaluate critically the scientific claims made by others
•    appreciate biology as both an independent and a collaborative human endeavour
•    develop in-depth knowledge, understanding, skills and scientific values relating to biology
•    appreciate the changing and expanding body of contemporary knowledge in biology.
Australian Biology Curriculum 2010: Aims


Junior Secondary

Task 1
Download a map of the USA from:

Now download a map of the Bahamas from:

Save the maps to your files, or print them and paste them into your workbook.
Go back to the websites and use the zoom toggle so you can find the following locations. Then highlight them on the maps you downloaded:

•    Cape Coral, South Florida
•    Hells Canyon, Snake River, Idaho
•    Grand Lake, North Eastern Oklahoma
•    Andros Island, Bahamas

Task 2
On your map of the USA, shade the coastal area from North Carolina, all the way around to the border of Mexico. Mark this as the former habitat range of the small tooth sawfish. Then use a different kind of shading of mark the only place on the USA’s coast where the small tooth sawfish can now be found. Write a paragraph to describe the small tooth sawfish’s habitat. Now write down two reasons to explain why the sawtooth’s habitat has dramatically decreased.

Task 3
Do some research to help you write a sentence that explains the term ‘bycatch’. Write 100 words to describe why the small tooth sawfish is particularly vulnerable to net-based fishing.

Task 4
Write down three physical characteristics that the small tooth sawfish, white sturgeon and paddlefish have in common. Now write down three points of difference between the three fish.

Task 5
Write 100 words to describe how the small tooth sawfish uses its rostrum. Add a paragraph with two advantages and two disadvantages to having a rostrum.

Senior Secondary

Task 1
Write two paragraphs to explain how commercial fishing and trawling industries in the USA impacted the habitat of the small tooth sawfish.

Task 2
Until recently, the biggest mystery about the small tooth sawfish was its saw (rostrum). Write a 200-word description of the rostrum, including all its physical characteristics and uses. Accompany your description with an illustration of the rostrum.

Task 3
Draw up a table of three columns to compare and contrast the hunting and feeding methods of the small tooth sawfish, white sturgeon and paddlefish.

Task 4
Describe, one per paragraph, five characteristics of the small tooth sawfish that have helped it survive for the last 100 million years.

Task 5
In 250 words, explain how satellite tracking works, the advantages and disadvantages of its use and, specifically, how this method of data gathering might assist the survival of the small tooth sawfish.

Discuss this article


Never miss a Nat Geo moment

Your email address
We use our own and third-party cookies to improve our services, personalise your advertising and remember your preferences. If you continue browsing, or click on the accept button on this banner, we understand that you accept the use of cookies on our website. For more information visit our Cookies Policy AcceptClose cookie policy overlay