Common name: Elephant Fishes, Elephantfishes, Plownose Chimaeras


These bizarre-looking fishes have a long, fleshy hoe-shaped snout. The Elephant Fish probes the sea floor with its snout in search of invertebrates and small fishes.

Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray, Elephant Fishes, CALLORHINCHIDAE in Fishes of Australia, accessed 15 Jul 2024,

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Family Taxonomy

A small family with a single genus Callorhinchus, and three species, one of which lives in Australian waters.

Family Distribution

Found in temperate waters of the Southern Hemisphere, including southern Africa, Australia, New Zealand and southern South America. Known in southern Australia from the off Newcastle (N.S.W.) on the east coast, to about Esperance near the the western end of the Great Australian Bight, and around Tasmania. Elephantfish live on the bottom over sand or mud, in estuaries and coastal waters to a depth of 200 metres; more common in deeper waters.

Family Description

Elephant fishes 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).

Family Size

Reaches 1.5 m TL.

Family Colour

Silvery with iridescent reflections and dark, variable markings on sides, including several broad longitudinal bands; a spot below and behind eyes; blotches near bases of pelvic fins and on upper surfaces of pectoral fins.

Family Feeding

Carnivores: use their long snout to find crabs, shrimps, shellfishes and small fishes in the sediment.

Family Reproduction

Fertilisation is internal, and adult males have simple intromittent claspers, a pair of complex retractable prepelvic claspers and a thumb-shaped head clasper - all used to hold the female during copulation. Females lay long, flask-like chitinous egg cases with broadly flanged edges on sandy or muddy bottoms.

Family Commercial

Elephantfishes are a well-known recreational species in parts of their range and are marketed commercially in Australia and New Zealand. The flesh is of good quality and often sold as flake or whitefish.

Family Remarks

The whole genome of the Elephantfish, Callorhinchus milii, has been sequenced and is the smallest genome among the known cartilaginous fish genomes.


Dianne J. Bray


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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. Curr. Biol. 15: R82-R83.

Venkatesh, B. et al. 2007. Survey sequencing and comparative analysis of the elephant shark (Callorhinchus milii) genome. PLoS Biol. 5: e101