My Six-Month Internship: Year Five

My Six-Month Internship: Year Five

by Nikki Biskis

Sometimes I think back to that day in Melbourne where I called Barbara at Sharks And Rays Australia to ask what she had. We had an honest conversation. I was trying to break into the field of ecology, but I couldn’t afford more student loans. I’d work for free, as long as I had to, until I had the experience and papers I needed to get into a program. I just finished one internship down here and was not ready to go back to the States. The plan was to give trophy rostra another life, through display cases aiming to at educate fishers. It would take six to nine months, and I would work on other datasets as an intern with SARA.

Fast forward to three years later, and I was beginning my PhD, with the plan of assessing sawfish ecology through reported sightings, historic records, and acoustic tracking. Over the last two years, I’d seen rostra and photographs – hundreds and hundreds of each – but now I finally got to head into the field and see these animals in the wild! With the first round of display cases finally built, Barbara and I began to distribute them on our way to field sites in Far North Queensland. They’d continue to engage the community long after we were gone.

Except I didn’t see a live sawfish, not for a long time. But the communities did. The cases became a talking point at the local roadhouses and information centres. One day I got an email from Lockhart River saying that they’d seen our case in Coen – could they have one too? More importantly, the Land and Sea Ranger stations jumped on board, all nine of which are involved in ongoing field surveys for sawfish on Country, reporting sightings back year-round. What started as a short project was turning into a strong community, in ways that I had not anticipated.

Since the first round of deliveries, we branched out to include more populated areas down south. These areas report a higher percentage of dead or saw-less sawfish, highlighting critical locations for outreach. We led SARA’s first Mackay field expedition in Nov 2021, and as with the rest of my journey, the Display Cases came with us. Large organisations like Australia Zoo and the Kingfisher Bay resort on K’Gari (Fraser Island) also got involved. In May of this year, the first confirmed sawfish sighting was reported off K’Gari in 60 years.

The display project wrapped up in September, which was bittersweet. However, the conversation continues, not just locally, but internationally as well. Both Barbara and I presented research at Sharks International in Valencia, in October. These presentations highlighted findings from the rostrum collection (1), and our citizen science database (2), showing that the original mission is a reality. These rostra are more than just old trophies – they have enormous potential to protect the animals we have left.

As for me, I am officially a confirmed PhD candidate as of this month. It seems awfully fitting that I sent out one of our last remaining cases to Mackay the day before my confirmation seminar. My thesis has shifted away from tagging back to where it all began – rostra. I got to complete a morphometric analysis, two years in the works, which is due to be submitted as a publication early this year (3). The sightings chapter is currently being analysed, and in addition to Sharks International, I presented preliminary findings at the annual conference of the Australian Society of Fish Biology in Gold Coast in November (4). Rostra are also a critical part of Chapters 3 and 4, looking at tooth microchemistry to determine provenance, and historic records.

In the end it was clearly not a one-year project, rather, these display cases heralded my entry into the sawfish world. I cannot thank Save Our Seas enough for the ongoing adjustments to grant terms during Covid, supporting a project that has brought together so many people to look after sawfish. And of course, Sharks And Rays Australia (read: Barbara) for the continued support and training as I navigate this PhD, and taking a chance on me in the first place.

Major funding for the Display Case Project, Citizen Science Database and our Sawfish Spotter’s t-shirts was provided by the Queensland’s Chief Scientist’s Advanced Queensland Citizen Science Initiative. This project was also supported by a Small Grant from Save Our Sea Foundation. Our field work for 2020 and 2022 was funded by: Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation Inc., Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Queensland Government Community Sustainability Action Grants.


  1. Wueringer, BE, Biskis, VN & Pinkus, GA. 2022. Impact of trophy collection and commercial fisheries on sawfishes in Queensland, Australia. Endangered Species Research. In print.
  2. Biskis, VN, Townsend, KA, McDavitt, MT & Wueringer, BE. Analysis of current species ranges, hotspots, and interaction with regions of high fishing pressure in Queensland (in prep)
  3. Biskis, VN, Wueringer, BE, Holmes, BJ, & Townsend, KA. Using rostral morphometrics to access size class info from historic sawfish specimens (in prep)
  4. Biskis, VN, Townsend, KA, McDavitt, MT & BE Wueringer (2022) Sawfish spotters fill data gaps critical for sawfish protections in Queensland, Australia (Abstract)

Thank you to all participating display locations:

  • Albatross Bay Resort, Weipa, QLD
  • Archer River Roadhouse, Archer River, QLD
  • Australia Zoo, Beerwah, QLD
  • Bamaga Tavern, Bamaga, QLD
  • Barra Jacks, Rockhampton, QLD
  • Barramundi Discovery Centre, Karumba, QLD
  • Burdekin Gateway Visitor Information Centre, Home Hill, QLD
  • Burdekin Visitor Information Centre, Ayr, QLD
  • Burke and Wills Roadhouse, Four Ways, QLD
  • Burketown Information Centre, Burketown, QLD
  • C4 (Community for Coastal Cassowary Conservation), Mission Beach, QLD
  • Cape York Peninsula Lodge, Bamaga, QLD
  • Capricorn Coast Information Centre, Yeppoon, QLD
  • Cardwell Rainforest and Reef Visitor Centre, Cardwell, QLD
  • Chillagoe Cockatoo Hotel, Chillagoe, QLD
  • Chillagoe Hub Information Centre, Chillagoe, QLD
  • Cloncurry Unearthed Visitor Information Centre & Museum, Cloncurry, QLD
  • Croydon Club Hotel, Croydon, QLD
  • Daintree Discovery Centre, Cow Bay, QLD
  • Daydream Island, Whitsundays, QLD
  • Eimeo Pub, Mackay, QLD
  • Exchange Hotel, Coen, QLD
  • Gregory Downs Hotel, Gregory, QLD
  • Gympie Bones Museum, Gympie, QLD
  • Hann River Roadhouse, Laura, QLD
  • Hemingway’s Brewery – Cairns & Port Douglas, QLD
  • Heron Island Research Station, Heron Island, QLD
  • Historic Village Herberton, Herberton, QLD
  • Hope Vale Ranger Station, Hope Vale, QLD
  • Kingfisher Bay Resort, K’gari, QLD
  • Koumala Hotel, Koumala, QLD
  • Kowanyama PBC, Kowanyama, QLD
  • Kowanyama Ranger Station, Kowanyama, QLD
  • Kuranda Visitor Information Centre, Kuranda, QLD
  • Lakeland Hotel Motel, Lakeland, QLD
  • Lakeland Roadhouse, Lakeland, QLD
  • Laura Roadhouse, Laura, QLD
  • Mackay Marina, Mackay, QLD
  • Mapoon Aboriginal Shire Council, Mapoon, QLD
  • Moreton Bay Research Station, Dunwich, QLD
  • Moreton Telegraph Station, Wenlock, QLD
  • Mornington Island Arts Centre, Mornington Island, QLD
  • Mornington Island State School, Mornington Island, QLD
  • Musgrave Roadhouse, Yarraden, QLD
  • Nature’s Powerhouse (Cooktown Visitor Information Centre), Cooktown, QLD
  • Normanton Library and Information Centre, Normanton, QLD
  • Northern Gulf NRM Office, Georgetown, QLD
  • Orpheus Island Research Station, Orpheus Island, QLD
  • Palmer River Roadhouse, Lakeland, QLD
  • Plumtree Store, Stanage, QLD
  • Pormpuraaw Art & Culture Centre, Pormpuraaw, QLD
  • Pormpuraaw Council Office, Pormpuraaw, QLD
  • Port Stewart Ranger Station, Port Stewart, QLD
  • Purple Pub, Normanton, QLD
  • Reef Teach, Cairns, QLD
  • Rinyirru Ranger Base, Rinyirru National Park, QLD
  • Rodney Fox Shark Museum, Mile End, SA
  • Sea Life Aquarium – Sunshine Coast, QLD
  • Sea Link Queensland, Townsville, QLD
  • Sea World, Gold Coast, QLD
  • Secret Spot Tackle Shop, Yeppoon, QLD
  • Sunset Tavern, Karumba, QLD
  • The Greenhoose, Lockhart River, QLD
  • Winton Hotel, Winton, QLD


A current map of display locations in Queensland.

K’gari represents the southern limit in QLD for sawfishes confirmed with photographs in the SARA database so far. Image by Veronika Biskis. 

After meeting the Yuwi Rangers in Mackay this November, we were introduced to another location at the Eimeo Hotel, reaching people where sawfishes were historically caught quite frequently. Image by Veronika Biskis

A case in Musgrave Roadhouse, halfway up to the tip to Cape York. This is the only stop for fuel or food for 100 km when traveling north. Image by Veronika Biskis. 

Veronika Biskis and Wayne Phillips, Head of Marine Sciences for Sea World Gold Coast on arrival of their sawfish display case, November 2021.  Funding from the Save Our Seas foundation many deliveries could be made in person, increasing engagement and excitement around receiving each display. Image by Patrick Gallagher

People can submit both current and historic sightings to the SARA website, which has now received over 1200 submissions. This photograph from Toogoom, QLD, 1890 is the oldest on record in Australia.

Veronika Biskis and Dr Barbara Wueringer (SARA) with Sue Marsh (Laura Rangers) hold plush sawfish knitted by someone in the community.

Daniela Matteus-Holland and Veronika Biskis of SARA take measurements from a rostrum in the collection. Measurements are used to estimate total length and age of the animal at death using morphometrics. Image by Russel Hosp

A pile of saws awaiting sampling. Rostra are continuously donated to SARA through a collaboration with Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Turning trophies into messengers for conservation

Turning trophies into messengers for conservation

by Nikki Biskis and Barbara Wueringer

We are excited to announce that a long imagined SARA initiative is well underway! Since commencing our public submissions campaign in 2016, we have received over 140 sawfish saws in donation. Some of the saws are used for school visits and species ID workshops, but we are now on a mission to display the majority of saws all over Far North Queensland. This is our chance to turn saws once removed as trophies into messengers for conservation!

Right now we are designing and building informative displays to educate communities about how to safely release sawfish from fishing gear and report sightings to us. Our conversations with people from all walks of life have shown that once people understand how threatened sawfish are, they become stewards for these amazing animals. Ensuring that the saw is not amputated from an accidentally captured sawfish is one of our priorities.

So far we have received funding from the Advanced Queensland Citizen Science Initiative for the first 25 locations, with an ultimate goal of reaching 50SARA has also received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the locations contacted so far. We have officially picked the first 20 locations, and most of them are already on board! Thank you to everyone that offered to be a part of our mission! If you think that your location (iconic pub, road house, tourist info centre and more) sees large numbers of both tourists and local visitors, and would like to join this project, please send an email to nikki(at)

Both the Sawfish Biology Guide and Display Flyer were designed with this project in mind

Currently planned locations for sawfish saw displays: Albatross Bay Resort (Weipa), Daintree Discovery Centre (Daintree), Barramundi Discovery Centre (Karumba), Cape York Peninsula Lodge (Bamaga), Lakeland Hotel (Lakeland), Moreton Telegraph Station (-12.4536°, 142.6386°), Cardwell Rainforest and Reef Visitor Information Centre, Cairns Aquarium, Normanton Library/Info Centre, Kowanyama Ranger Office, Kowanyama PCB, Nature’s Powerhouse (Cooktown Visitor Information), Hann River Roadhouse (-15.1889°, 143.8725°), Palmer River Roadhouse (-16.1070°, 144.7769°), Archer River Roadhouse (-13.4376°, 142.94168°).
Sawfish – the forgotten sea monsters

Sawfish – the forgotten sea monsters

Sharks And Rays Australia and the Cairns Museum are teaming up for National Science Week 2018 and we’re asking you to help us to gather information on the occurrence of some of the largest but rarest fish in Far North Queensland’s waters!

Sawfish were once common in coastal tropical and subtropical waters around the world, but now they are considered the most endangered family of all sharks and rays globally. The freshwater sawfish Pristis pristis, which is also often called the largetooth sawfish, was recently listed as one of the 100 most endangered species on the planet by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). This is just one of four species of sawfish that are found in the waters of Far North Queensland.

During the afternoon, Dr Barbara Wueringer, the lead scientist and founder of SARA, will be giving a public talk on all things sawfish, including their biology, local history, current situation and threats. Their cultural importance for Indigenous groups in Australia and elsewhere will also be highlighted. Dr Wueringer will be joined by Ann-Marie Fearing from the University of Southern Mississippi and the Sawfish Conservation Society, who will shed light on how a tiny DNA sample from an old saw that you might have at home can help our conservation efforts for sawfish.

Do you have a saw at home? Please bring it with you to the talk! We would like to take measurements, small tissue samples for genetic analysis and hear the story of where it came from. You will receive a certificate that your saw has been sampled, complete with a sample number, which will allow us to report our findings back to you. Please do not attempt to remove a saw from a live sawfish for this!

When: August 11, 2018 from 1pm until 4 pm. Dr Wueringer’s public talk will be held at 1.30pm and repeated at 2.30pm.

Where: Cairns Museum, Cairns School of Arts building, Cnr Lake and Shields St, 93-105 Lake St, Cairns City QLD 4870

Cost: free



Confirm your attendance through our Facebook event here!

you can also find the National Science Week event page here!

Please direct all interview inquiries to

When art meets conservation

When art meets conservation

When I heard that Pangea Seed Foundation was considering to use Cairns as the canvas for their first Australian Sea Walls event, I was really excited. The foundation had been doing amazing work over many years, and after meeting Akira Biondo at a conference on sharks and rays in Berlin, Germany in 2012, I was one of their keen followers. Pangea Seed is the brainchild of Tre Packard and his wife Akira, and funds raised through are used to inspire marine conservation in children. One of the big topics the foundation took on was to teach children about shark finning.

Their work in schools is inspiring, but also is the artwork. The event in Cairns brought together 20 mural artists, both internationally acclaimed as well as locally famous. Various events were organised to inspire their murals, and this is where Sharks And Rays Australia got involved. After all, a mural of a sawfish can reach hundreds of thousands of people from around the world, if placed in the right location in Cairns!

At the beginning of May, I returned early form a field trip in the Northern Gulf of Carpentaria, to join a panel discussion with the artists and founders of Pangea Seed at the Cairns Tanks Arts Centre. Some of the points raised during this discussion were how art can change people’s perceptions of animals. For example, sharks are generally perceived to be dangerous, but a mural of a shark can be perceived to be beautiful, and it is this moment in which the observer’s mind opens, and becomes receptive and curious to the possibility that the long hold perception of the mindless killer might be wrong.

Below you will find the map of murals that were produced across Cairns, I hope you enjoy them for years to come.




This blog post was originally published as a project update for the Save Our Seas Foundation. You can access the original post here.

Sometimes working with endangered species can be difficult. Personally, I have a lot of respect for my fellow elasmobranch biologists who collect samples and sightings data from fish markets and other locations that bring you close to only body parts of the species you are working so hard to protect.

Last week I received a set of saws that Queensland Fisheries had confiscated. The previous owner of these had received a fine for possession without a permit. It is likely that many of these saws had been taken before sawfish had been protected. But it is also likely that the saws represent a subset of what he collected, the subset that he was not yet able to sell.

The saws will be used for research and education. DNA samples and measurements will be taken, and some of the saws will be used for school visits. But these saws will also guide future sampling efforts. Being an optimist, I am hoping they might lead us to a remnant population of a Pristis species on Queensland’s east coast, in a location where potentially even the populations of Anoxyrpstis cuspidata might still be healthy.