KOTA KINABALU - Marine researchers are hoping to rediscover a species of rays with long snouts resembling sharks, thought to be extinct, in smaller rivers that feed into Sungai Kinabatangan.
Though the marine creature called sawfish have not been sighted along the nation's second longest waterway for about 20 years, researchers believe that there could be small populations at its tributaries or at the nearby Sungai Segama.
Universiti Malaysia Sabah's Borneo Marine Research Institute senior lecturer Dr Mabel Manjaji Matsumoto said they planned to carry field studies in rivers at the Lower Kinabatangan region to see if there were any more sawfish populations there.
She said the reported capture of a 5m long female sawfish on June 25 at Daro in Sarawak had once again brought into focus the need for urgent conservation efforts of these marine creatures said to be dwindling in numbers.
She said that sawfish were also a protected species under the Fisheries Act.
Dr Mabel said due to their resemblance of sharks, sawfish had been harvested for their fins apart from their long, toothed snouts or rostra, some up to 7m long, often in demand as "curios".
Sawfish that thrive in freshwater and parts of rivers of low salinity are often caught in fishing nets due to their toothed snouts.
In addition many of their habitats are under threat due to land clearing activities and agriculture along the rivers.
Dr Mabel said four of five species of sawfishes had been recorded In Malaysia.
The most recent report of Borneo sawfish from Sarawak is encouraging - that sawfishes still existed in Borneo - and provides a hope to conserve the remaining population.
"As current knowledge of sawfish distribution in Malaysia is patchy at best, much needs to be done to better understand the distribution of sawfishes throughout Malaysia," Dr Mable said.