While we don’t have actual elephants in the sea, we have elephantfishes, which is sort of the same thing. Most people don’t like to discuss the elephant (fish) in the room, but that’s all we’re going to talk about in this blog post.
The elephantfish family, Callorhinchidae, consists of 3 species, all of which are found in the temperate waters of the Southern Hemisphere! You have one species found in New Zealand/Australian waters (the one we’ll talk about today), one that is in southern African waters and the third resides in the southern South America waters. They all tend to be seen shallow, coastal waters, found in depths less than 200 m. Female elephantfish then migrate into even shallower waters, where they go to reproduce (they tend to lay only two eggs at a time). Also known as “ploughnose chimearas,” they indeed have a plough-shaped snout!
Unlike land elephants, they lack big ears or tusks. In fact, they are small (maximum size of 1.2 meters) and rather fleshy, as most animals in the Callorhinchidae family are. Our specific elephantfish, Callorhinchus milii, is silvery in color with black spots and bands on the ventral (top) part of its body. I guess the only thing elephants and elephantfish have in common is that they both have small eyes!
They have a large spine in front of their first dorsal fin for protection. The other two species of elephantfish also match this description, with similarities in coloration making it hard to identify them individually (the only way we currently can tell them apart is geographically). Not to mention, like many elasmobranchs, color variation can occur… meaning you can spot a Callorhinchus milii that has an entirely different color than what was described above! Wicked, eh?
A neat fact: while the elephantfish, Callorhinchus milii, is currently considered one species, there is some evidence to suggest they are two different populations! We’ll keep you updated on that if we hear anything from this side of the world.
Primarily found on continental slopes, they have seasonal migrations into bays and estuaries for reproductive needs. They are oviparous, and their egg cases are typically laid on sandy/muddy substrates. In these sheltered areas, the eggs undergo a gestation period of 6-12 months. Once born, the elephantfish feast upon invertebrates (yummy molluscs) and fish. They don’t seem to live long, with a maximum age of 15 years seeming to be it.
Callorhinchus milii's IUCN assessment is currently Least Concern (LC).
what did you learn about elephantfish?
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TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez is author of all animal bios and "Behind the Fins" segments.
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