Elephantfish, Callorhinchus milii (Bory de Saint-Vincent 1823)

Other Names: Australian Ghostshark, Elephant Fish, Elephant Shark, Ghost Shark, Ghostshark, Reperepe, Reperepe, Silver Fish, White Fillets, White Fish, Whitefish, White-fish

An Elephantfish, Callorhinchus milii. Source: Rudie H. Kuiter / Aquatic Photographics. License: All rights reserved


A bizarre-looking cartilaginous fish with a hoe-shaped snout used to probe the bottom for small fishes and invertebrates. Elephantfish are silvery with iridescent reflections and dark variable markings , often including spots, blotches and broad longitudinal bands on the sides.

Video of Elephantfish being released in Port Phillip Bay, Victoria

Video about Elephantfish.

Video and information about Elephantfish embryos.

Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray, Callorhinchus milii in Fishes of Australia, accessed 22 Aug 2018, http://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/1986

Elephantfish, Callorhinchus milii (Bory de Saint-Vincent 1823)

More Info


Inhabits the continental shelf in cool temperate regions of southern and south-eastern Australia and New Zealand. The Elephantfish is found inshore and offshore on sandy and muddy bottoms in depths to about 200 metres. 

In southern Australia, the species is most abundant in Bass Strait. During the egg-laying period, Elephantfish enter large shallow bays and estuaries such as Port Phillip Bay and Western Port Bay in Victoria, American River on Kangaroo Island, and parts of the South Australian west coast.


Elephantfish have an elongate body, a long snout with a broad, flexible hoe-shaped snout process and a single gill opening. The head has a series of well-developed sensory pores and obvious mucous canals. Teeth in both jaws are plate-like.

Fins: Two widely separated dorsal fins, the first triangular in shape and preceded by a stout serrated spine, the second highest anteriorly and relatively short-based. A high, short-based anal fin is located midway between the large pectoral fins and the heterocercal tail (has a long upper lobe).


To 1.5 m TL


Silvery with iridescent reflections and dark, variable markings on the sides, including several broad longitudinal bands, large spots and blotches.


The hoe-shaped snout is used to probe the substrate for small fishes and invertebrates.


Elephantfish are oviparous, and females move inshore to lay pairs of leathery egg cases on sandy or muddy bottoms. The egg cases are golden-yellow in colour and measure up to 25x10 cm.

Females lay eggs over a period of several weeks each year, and each eggs may take up to 10 months to hatch. Juveniles remain inshore for up to three years before moving into deeper waters offshore.

Females mature at about 70 cm and males mature at about 50 cm. Maximum age has been estimated at 15 years.


Elephantfish are relatively abundant and are taken by recreational anglers and as bycatch in commercial fisheries in Southern Australia and New Zealand. The flesh is of good quality, and is often sold as flake or whitefish.

In southern Australia, commercial catch rates have been stable for the past 20 years, while fishing effort is reducing (Walker et al. 2002). Australia has a TAC (Total Allowable Catch) limit in place for the elephantfish, and a three-mile closure of all Victorian waters to shark fishing provides a large refuge for the species in southern Australia (Reardon et al. 2011).


IUCN Red List: Least Concern


The entire Elephantfish genome has been sequenced and this species has the smallest genome among the known cartilaginous fish genomes (Venkatesh et al. 2007).

Similar Species

The Elephantfish is the only Australian species in the family Callorhinchidae.


Callorhinchus, is from the Greek kalos, kallos, meaning 'beautiful' and the Greek rhyngchos, meaning 'snout', in reference to the hoe-like snout of the Elephantfish.

Species Citation

Callorynchus milii Bory de Saint-Vincent 1823, Dictionnaire Classique d'Histoire Naturelle 3: 62. Type locality: Bruny Island, Tasmania, Australia.


Dianne J. Bray

Elephantfish, Callorhinchus milii (Bory de Saint-Vincent 1823)


Bigelow, H.B. & Schroeder, W.C. 1953. Chimaeroids. pp. 515-588, figs 118-127 in Parr, A.E. (ed.). Fishes of the western North Atlantic. Memoir. Sears Foundation of Marine Research 1(2): 1-599.

Coleman, N. 1980. Australian Sea Fishes South of 30ºS. Lane Cove, NSW : Doubleday Australia Pty Ltd 309 pp.

Daley, R.K., Stevens, J.D., Last, P.R. & Yearsley, G.K. 2002. Field Guide to Australian Sharks & Rays. Hobart : CSIRO Marine Research 84 pp. 

Davies, W.I.L., Tay, B.-H., Zheng, L., Danks, J.A., Brenner, S., Foster, R.G., Collin, S.P., Hankins, M.W., Venkatesh, B. & Hunt, D.M. 2012. Evolution and Functional Characterisation of Melanopsins in a Deep-Sea Chimaera (Elephant Shark, Callorhinchus milii). PLoS ONE 7(12): 1-10.

Didier, D.A. 1995. Phylogenetic systematics of extant chimaeroid fishes (Holocephali, Chimaeroidei). American Museum Novitates 3119: 1-86.

Francis, M.P. 1997. Spatial and temporal variation in the growth rate of elephantfish (Callorhinchus milii). New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 31: 9-23.

Gillis, J.A., Rawlinson, K.A., Bell, J., Lyon, W.S., Baker, C.V.H. & Shubin, N.H. 2011. Holocephalan embryos provide evidence for gill arch appendage reduction and opercular evolution in cartilaginous fishes. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. 108: 1507–1512.

Glover, C.J.M. 1994. Families Chimaeridae, Callorhynchidae, Rhinochimaeridae. pp. 185-193 figs 164-192 in Gomon, M.F., Glover, C.J.M. & Kuiter, R.H (eds). The Fishes of Australia's South Coast. Adelaide : State Printer 992 pp. 810 figs

Gomon, M.F. 2008. Families Dasyatidae, Myliobatidae, Chimaeridae, Callorhinchidae, Rhinochimaeridae, pp. 138-149. in Gomon. M.F., Bray, D.J. & Kuiter, R.H (eds). Fishes of Australia's Southern Coast. Sydney : Reed New Holland 928 pp. 

Gorman, T.B.S. 1963. Biological and Economic Aspects of the Elephant Fish Callorhynchus milii Bory in Pegasus Bay and the Canterbury Bight. New Zealand Marine Department Fisheries Technical Report 8. 54pp.

Inoue, J. G., Miya, M., Lam, K., Tay, B. H., Danks, J. A., Bell, J., Walker, T. I. & Venkatesh, B. 2010. Evolutionary origin and phylogeny of the modern holocephalans (Chondrichthyes: Chimaeriformes): a mitogenomic perspective. Mol. Biol. Evol. 27: 2576–2586.

Johanson, Z., Boisvert, C., Maksimenko, A., Currie, P. & Trinajstic, K. 2015. Development of the Synarcual in the Elephant Sharks (Holocephali; Chondrichthyes): Implications for Vertebral Formation and Fusion. PLoS ONE 10(9): e0135138. PDF Open access

Kuiter, R.H. 1993. Coastal Fishes of South-eastern Australia. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 437 pp.

Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to sea fishes of Australia. A comprehensive reference for divers and fishermen. Sydney, NSW, Australia : New Holland Publishers xvii, 434 pp.

Last, P.R. & J.D. Stevens. 2009. Sharks and rays of Australia. 2nd Ed. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia. 644 p.

Ravi, V., Lam, K., Tay, B. H., Tay, A., Brenner, S. & Venkatesh, B. 2009. Elephant shark (Callorhinchus milii) provides insights into the evolution of Hox gene clusters in gnathostomes. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. 106: 327–332.

Reardon, M.B. 2001. Seasonality and microanatomy of spermatophore formation in a holocephalan, the elephant fish, Callorhynchus milii. Honours Thesis (BSc). Department of Zoology. Melbourne, University of Melbourne.

Reardon, Matt B., Walker, Terence I., and Hamlett, William C. 2002. Microanatomy of spermatophore formation and male genital ducts in the holocephalan, Callorhynchus milii. Marine and Freshwater Research 53(2): 591-600.

Reardon, M., Walker, T.I. & Francis, M.P. 2003. Callorhinchus milii. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 12 January 2012.

Smith, R. 2001. The reproductive biology of the female elephant fish, Callorhynchus milii, with particular reference to the oviducal gland. Honours Thesis (BSc). Department of Zoology. Melbourne, University of Melbourne.

Venkatesh, B., Kirkness, E.F., Loh, Y.H., Halpern, A.L., Lee, A.P., Johnson, J., Dandona, N., Viswanathan, L.D., Tay, A., Venter, J.C., Strausberg, R.L. & Brenner, S. 2007. Survey sequencing and comparative analysis of the elephant shark (Callorhinchus milii) genome. PLoS Biol. 5(4): e101.

Venkatesh, B., A.P. Lee, V. Ravi, A.K. Maurya, M.M. Lian, J.B. Swann et al. 2014. Elephant shark genome provides unique insights into gnathostome evolution. Nature 505: 174–179.

Venkatesh, B., Tay, A., Dandona, N., Patil, J.G. & Brenner, S. 2005. A compact cartilaginous fish model genome. Current Biology 15: R82-R83.

Walker, T.I., Hudson, R.J. & Gason, A.S. 2005. Catch evaluation of target, byproduct, and bycatch species in the shark fishery of south-eastern Australia. Journal of Northwest Atlantic Fishery Science 35: 505‒530.

Wang, J., Lee, A.P., Kodzius, R., Brenner, S. & Venkatesh, B. 2009. Large number of ultraconserved elements were already present in the jawed vertebrate ancestor. Mol. Biol. Evol. 26: 487-490.

Yu, W.P., Rajasegaran, V., Yew, K., Loh, W., Tay, B.H., Amemiya, C.T., Brenner, S. & Venkatesh, B. 2008. Elephant shark sequence reveals unique insights into the evolutionary history of vertebrate genes: a comparative analysis of the protocadherin cluster. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 105: 3819-3824. 

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37043001

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Danger:Venomous dorsal-fin spine

Depth:0-200 m

Fishing:Commercial, recreational, by-catch

Habitat:Sandy, muddy bottoms

Max Size:150 cm TL

Species Image Gallery

Species Maps

CAAB distribution map