Common name: Redvelvet Whalefish



Moderately-sized reddish-orange fishes with a long robust, somewhat flabby body, a large head, a long snout, a very large mouth with jaws extending well beyond the small eye, and a single dorsal fin opposite the anal fin and far back on the body. The family contains a single species, Barbourisia rufa, found in meso- and bathypelagic waters worldwide.

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Cite this page as:
John R. Paxton & Dianne J. Bray, Redvelvet Whalefish, BARBOURISIIDAE in Fishes of Australia, accessed 16 Apr 2024,

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Family Taxonomy

A monotypic family containing Barbourisia rufa, the Redvelvet Whalefish.

Family Distribution

Originally described from the Gulf of Mexico, the meso- and bathypelagic Barbourisia rufa is known from tropical to temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans from >60°N to 45°S; Paxton et al. (2001) reports the capture depths with both benthic nets between 350 and 1500 m and pelagic nets to at least 800–2000 m.

Family Description

Meristic features: Dorsal fin 19-22; Anal fin 15-18; Pectoral fin 13-14; Pelvic fins 6; Caudal fin (principal rays) 19; Vertebrae 40-43.

Body elongate, moderately robust; head large, with large mucous cavities on top of head separated by thick ridges and covered by skin; eyes small. Snout very long; nasal organ moderately developed. Mouth very large, jawsvery long, extending far behind eye. Teeth small, close set, present on jaws, vomer, and ectopterygoid; palatine and copula lacking teeth. Gill rakers well developed, lath-like. Fin spines absent; dorsal and anal fins opposite and far posterior; pelvic fins abdominal. Lateral line well developed as a broad tube pierced by small pores and supported by internal scales. Body and head covered in small, adherent, non-imbricate scales with a single, central spine giving a velvet-like texture. No photophores or luminous tissue. No cavernous tissue. Pleural ribs present.

Family Size

Maximum length 39 cm SL.

Family Colour

Bright reddish orange.

Family Feeding


Family Reproduction

The sexes are separate and fertilisation is presumably external. Larval development is direct. Paxton et al. (2001) desribed the larvae and juveniles.

Family Commercial

Of no interest to fisheries; occasionally taken in commercial trawls.


John R. Paxton & Dianne J. Bray

Family Resources

Australian Faunal Directory

Catalog of Fishes

Digital Fish Library - for 3D MRI images of Barbourisia rufa


Kotlyar, A.N.  1995. Osteology and distribution of Barbourisia rufa (Barbourisiidae). Voprosy Ikhtiologii 35(3): 282–289. (In Russian, English transl. Journal of Ichthyology 35(6): 140-150.

Parr, A.E.  l945. Barbourisidae, a new family of deep sea fishes. Copeia 1945(3): 127-129.

Rofen, R.R.  l959. The whale-fishes: families Cetomimidae, Barbourisiidae and Rondeletiidae (order Cetunculi). Galathea Reports 1: 255-260.

Paxton, J.R. 1999 Barbourisiidae. Redvelvet whalefish. p. 2205. In: K.E. Carpenter, K.E. & V.H. Niem (eds). FAO species identification guide for fishery purposes. The living marine resources of the Western Central Pacific. Vol. 4. Bony fishes part 2 (Mugilidae to Carangidae). FAO, Rome.

Paxton, J.R., Johnson, G.D. & Trnski, T. 2001. Larvae and juveniles of the deepsea “Whalefishes” Barbourisia and Rondeletia (Stephanoberyciformes: Barbourisiidae, Rondeletiidae), with comments on family relationships. Records of the Australian Museum 53: 407-425.

Struhsaker, P. 1965. The whalefish Barbourisia rufa (Cetunculi) from waters off southeastern United States. Copeia 1965(3): 376–377.