Extinctions on land are often inferred from sparse sightings over time, but this technique is ill-suited for wide-ranging species. We develop a space-for-time approach to track the spatial contraction and drivers of decline of sawfishes. These iconic and endangered shark-like rays were once found in warm, coastal waters of 90 nations and are now presumed extinct in more than half (n = 46). Using dynamic geography theory, we predict that sawfishes are gone from at least nine additional nations. Overfishing and habitat loss have reduced spatial occupancy, leading to local extinctions in 55 of the 90 nations, which equates to 58.7% of their historical distribution. Retention bans and habitat protections are urgently necessary to secure a future for sawfishes and similar species.
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