Freshwater Fish Group


The Freshwater Fish Group maintains the most extensive database of fishes in inland waters in Western Australia, which has been achieved through the monitoring of most river systems in the State. Our work encompasses research on most fish species in WA inland waters and their habitats, including diadromous species and feral fish. Below we outline a few of our current projects.

For more information visit

Research projects

Fishes of the Pilbara – field guide and documentary

During 2013 and 2014 the group was involved with ENVfusion Films in the making of a documentary of the fishes of the Pilbara. This accompanied a field guide depicting each of the region’s unique fishes, as well as the feral species, plus other fishes of estuarine or marine origin that frequent fresh waters. This was a joint initiative of the Rangelands NRM Coordinating Group and the Western Australian Government’s State NRM Program and was co-funded by the Australian and State Governments. To view the documentary, go to:

Pilbara book

Western Australia’s newest freshwater fish

In 2013 a new species of freshwater fish for southwestern Australia was formally described as Nannoperca pygmaea (Little Pygmy Perch). This is the first species described in the region since 1978, and increases the number of endemic fishes of the south-west to 9, with over 80% of the region’s freshwater fishes being found nowhere else. The species, at the time, was only known from an area of 0.06 km2, and it had an uncertain future due to its habitat undergoing increasing secondary salinisation and contained the feral Eastern Mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki). Members of our group have since found it in other catchments, and we have submitted applications for the species to be formally listed as ENDANGERED under State and Federal law.

Nannoperca sp. nov.jpg
The Little Pygmy Perch

Freshwater fishes and crayfishes of south-western Australia

In 2011, with help from SERCUL, Lotteryswest and ENVfusion Films, we produced a field guide, brochures and a film series of the fishes and crayfishes of south-western Australia. The brochures and field guide are available from SERCUL, while the films can be viewed by clicking on the following links: Freshwater fishesCater’s Freshwater Mussel

Final Book Cover website

Team Sawfish

Team Sawfish has spent 14 years monitoring sawfish populations in the Kimberley. Western Australia is home to four of the world’s five sawfish species, and our research is putting WA’s sawfish on the world stage. This work has recently appeared on National Geographic’s Monster Fish (Sawfish), and Animal Planet’s River Monsters (Chainsaw Predator), as well as on ABC’s Bushwhacked.We greatly appreciate the support of our project partners and funding bodies.

DMorgan Freshwater Sawfish
The Freshwater Sawfish (Pristis pristis) in the Fitzroy River

Barriers to sawfish migration
With funding from Chevron Australia administered through the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI), Team Sawfish is examining the impact of barriers on sawfish migrations in northwestern Australia. The team, in collaboration with the Nyikina-Mangala Rangers in the Fitzroy River, are tracking sawfish with an acoustic array above and below barriers, as well as mapping barriers within the region. We are delighted that Adrian Gleiss was just awarded an ARC DECRA to work with us on the project. We would like to thank the many people and organisations that helped out on the project.


ARC funding to understand the resilience of fishes to climate change

Climate change is threatening biodiversity globally, and fish are no exception. Their ectothermic physiology is responsible for water temperatures having a strong influence on their ability to survive and reproduce. As a result, biologists often turn to physiology to address questions relating to how vulnerable species are to climate change. However, many habitats show significant heterogeneity in temperatures (due to variations in flow, stratification, shading), which in turn provide fishes with the opportunity to thermoregulate. This project aims to identify if fishes can use thermoregulatory behaviour to buffer the effects of climate change. It will use a combination of telemetry, bioenergetics modelling and hydrology with partners from Murdoch, UWA and the University of Melbourne. This research will initially focus on Freshwater Sawfish and Bull Sharks in the Kimberley, but plans are already in place to expand this work to freshwater systems in the south-west of WA. Both areas are predicted to see substantial changes in climate and understanding the vulnerability of fish within these systems is of critical conservation concern.

Other research

Team Sawfish is also conducting research into the movement patterns of Green Sawfish and Dwarf Sawfish in collaboration with WAMSI, Chevron and CSIRO. For her PhD study, Stacy Blane is using next generation sequencing technologies to study the distribution of adaptively-significant genetic variation in the Freshwater Sawfish. Our group also founded the Sawfish Conservation Society, now an internationally recognised resource for sawfish information and publications.

Further reading:

Feutry, P., Kyne, P.M., Pillans, R.D., Chen, X., Marthick, J., Morgan, D.L. & Grewe, P.M. (2015). Whole mitogenome sequencing refines population structure of the Critically Endangered sawfish Pristis pristis. Marine Ecology Progress Series 533: 237-244.

Gleiss A.C., Potvin, J., Keleher J., Whitty J., Goldbogan, J.A. & Morgan D.L. (2015). Mechanical challenges to freshwater residency in sharks and rays. Journal of Experimental Biology 218: 1099-1110.

Morgan, D.L., Allen, M.G., Bedford, P. & Horstman, M. (2004). Fish fauna of the Fitzroy River in the Kimberley region of Western Australia – including the Bunuba, Gooniyandi, Ngarinyin, Nyikina and Walmajarri Aboriginal names.  Records of the Western Australian Museum 22: 147-161.

Morgan, D.L., Allen, M.G., Ebner, B.C., Whitty, J.M. & Beatty, S.J. (2015). Discovery of a pupping site and nursery for critically endangered Green Sawfish (Pristis zijsron). Journal of Fish Biology 86: 1658-1663.

Morgan, D.L., Tang, D. & Peverell, S.C. (2010). Critically endangered Pristis microdon (Elasmobranchii), as a host for the Indian parasitic copepod, Caligus furcisetifer Redkar, Rangnekar et Murti, 1949 (Siphonostomatoida): New records from northern Australia. Acta Parasitologica 55(4): 419-423.

Morgan, D.L., Whitty, J.M., Phillips, N.M., Thorburn, D.C., Chaplin, J.A. & McAuley, R. (2011). North-western Australia as a hotspot for endangered elasmobranchs, with particular reference to sawfishes and the Northern River Shark.  Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia 94: 345-358.

Morgan, D.L., Wueringer, B.E., Allen, M.G., Ebner, B.C., Whitty, J.M., Gleiss, A.C. & Beatty, S.J. (2016). What is the fate of amputee sawfish? Fisheries 41: 71-73.

Phillips, N., Chaplin, J., Morgan, D. & Peverell, S. (2009). Extraction and amplification of DNA from the dried rostra of sawfishes (Pristidae) for applications in conservation genetics. Pacific Conservation Biology 15: 128-134.

Phillips, N.M., Chaplin, J.A., Morgan, D.L. & Peverell, S.C. (2011). Population genetic structure and genetic diversity of three critically endangered Pristis sawfishes in northern Australian waters. Marine Biology 158: 903-915.

Thorburn, D.C., Morgan, D.L., Rowland, A.J. & Gill, H.S. (2007). Freshwater Sawfish Pristis microdon Latham, 1794 (Chondrichthyes: Pristidae) in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Zootaxa 1471: 27–41.

Thorburn, D.C., Morgan, D.L., Rowland, A.J., Gill, H.S. & Paling, E. (2008). Life history notes of the critically endangered dwarf sawfish, Pristis clavata, Garman 1906 from the Kimberley region of Western Australia.  Environmental Biology of Fishes 83: 139-145.

Whitty, J.M., Morgan, D.L., Peverell, S.C., Thorburn, D.C. & Beatty, S.J. (2009). Ontogenetic depth partitioning by juvenile freshwater sawfish (Pristis microdon: Pristidae) in a riverine environment. Marine and Freshwater Research 60: 306-316.

Whitty, J.M., Phillips, N.M., Thorburn, D.C., Simpfendorfer, C.A., Fielde, I., Peverell, S.C. & Morgan, D.L. (2014). Utility of rostra in the identification of Australian sawfishes (Chondrichthyes: Pristidae). Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 24: 791-804.



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