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Rare sawfish rescued amid a mysterious marine emergency in the Keys has died

A long gray sawfish resting at the bottom of a tank of greenish water.
Mote Marine Lab
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
This 11-foot male sawfish, rescued near Cudjoe Key this month, is recuperating in Mote Marine Lab rehab facility.

Wildlife officials said after more than three weeks of care at Mote Marine Lab in Sarasota, the sawfish — brought in after first-of-its kind rescue — was euthanized as its condition deteriorated.

A rare sawfish rescued last month in the Keys amid an extraordinary die-off of the endangered fish, and first of its kindresponse effort, has died.

In a statement Friday, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration said the 11-foot male sawfish received medicine, vitamins and round-the-clock care during its stay at Mote Marine Lab in Sarasota. The sawfish was among dozens turning up dead and more than a hundred more reported in distress during a rare event that has also sickened more than 50 other species since November.

“We knew this was a possible outcome, as the stress of a move like this can cause an already-compromised animal to decline quickly,” NOAA said.

READ MORE: One of the rarest fish on the planet is dying in the Keys. Scientists are struggling to find out why

Wildlife officials made the decision in late May to start pulling sick sawfish from the water as they continued to search for what was causing the die-off that coincided with other species becoming sick. While sawfish have died at an alarming rate, other species have been spotted spinning and showing signs of distress. At the time, NOAA officials worried that rescue efforts for the sawfish could be complicated and very different from the more typical rescues of marine mammals, which can breathe air.

The fish was found near Cudjoe Key on April 5 and held in a temporary tank for six days while it remained in critical condition. Once stabilized, wildlife officials loaded it into an aquarium transport tank for the 300-mile trip to Sarasota. In April, Florida wildlife officials reported the fish appeared to be recuperating.

But when the fish’s condition began to worsen, wildlife officials made the decision to euthanize it on Thursday, Mote said.

“It was always our cautious hope to be able to utilize the best available science for the rehabilitation and release of the sawfish,” Mote CEO Michael Crosby said in a statement. “Although heartbreaking, this outcome was not surprising.”

As of this week 45 sawfish have been found dead. Samples from a dozen have been sent to toxicologists at the University of South Alabama investigating the cause.

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Jenny Staletovich has been a journalist working in Florida for nearly 20 years.