We are talking about chimaeras today! Specifically the Cape elephantfish, also known as Callorhinchus capensis scientifically. This chimaera species is endemic to southern Africa, found from South Africa and Namibia. Here they have been observed from the coastal inshore waters to as deep as 374 metres below our waves (but they are rarely caught deeper than 150 metres, according to scientists).
The Cape elephantfish is a smooth silvery (sometimes looks bronze) chimaera in the Callorhinchidae family. This particular chimaera can reach a total length (TL) of 120 cm. Like other elephantfishes, they have a hoe-like proboscis in front of their snout that helps them dig through soft sediment looking for food. Food includes sea urchins, bivalves, crustaceans, gastropods, worms, and bony fish. #Finfact: Their first dorsal fin has a large venomous spine in front of it!
This chimaera is oviparous, and lays two eggs at a time. The egg case is large (measuring at about 25 cm) and spindle-shaped, with a ragged frill all around it. This shape is ideal for burying it in the soft sediment these chimaeras love. In the shallows the females and males come together to mate, with the females later laying eggs inshore too. The female cape elephantfish - also know as St. Josef shark or St. Josef chimaera- can mature at around 50 cm and the males at around 44 cm.
In South Africa, they are abundant species off the west and south coast, but uncommon along the east coast off KwaZulu-Natal. Due to this, there is even a fishery in this country! The St Joseph fishery is based primarily on that west coast where they are abundant, and fishermen can catch up to 650 tons annually using bottom set gillnets. Don't think this is an unsupervised fishery, however, as it is maintained by the number of nets a permit holder can have (no more than four net permits). According to the IUCN website: "Nets are set in daylight for a period of about 30 minutes and may not be set within 500 m of the high-water mark (Freer and Griffiths 1993a)." And as for any recreational fishing here? "The recreational line fishery in South Africa is managed by a bag limit of one/species/person/day for unspecified chondrichthyans, which includes C. capensis. " Sweet!
The species is also taken as byproduct in demersal trawl fisheries. In another country, Namibia, they are not commercially targeted but are taken as bycatch of demersal trawl fishing (not in large numbers).
Still, no major threats outside of this fishery exist (outside of predatory snails or any other animal that wants to munch on a chimaera like a seal or a shark) and therefore the IUCN feels comfortable assessing this animal as "Least Concern" (LC).
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TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez is author of all animal bios and "Behind the Fins" segments.
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