Redvelvet Whalefish, Barbourisia rufa Parr 1945

Other Names: Velvet Whalefish

A Redvelvet Whalefish, Barbourisia rufa, from off Victoria. Source: Julian K. Finn / Museum Victoria. License: CC by Attribution


An unusual bright red deep-sea fish with a stout flabby body, a large head, an enormous mouth with jaws extending well beyond the eye, and a well-developed lateral line. Tiny spicules cover the body, hence the common name Redvelvet Whalefish.

If you're thinking that a bright red fish would really stand out in the deep sea, think again. Visible light with long wavelengths, such as red, are absorbed by water and do not penetrate far below the surface.

As a result, most animals in the deep sea have completely lost the ability to see red. So, this Redvelvet Whalefish effectively appears black and is therefore invisible to all but a few deep-sea fishes – including the weird and wonderful loosejaws of the genus Malacosteus.

Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray & John R. Paxton, Barbourisia rufa in Fishes of Australia, accessed 03 Dec 2022,

Redvelvet Whalefish, Barbourisia rufa Parr 1945

More Info


Mesopelagic, bathypelagic and bathydemersal in tropical to temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans from >60°N to 45°S. Known from southern and western Australian waters, from south of Tasmania to off northwestern Australia.

Paxton et al. (2001) reports capture depths with benthic nets between 350 and 1500 m and pelagic nets to at least 2000 m.


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, jaws very 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.


Maximum size 39 cm SL


Carnivore - thought to feed on crustaceans


Dianne J. Bray & John R. Paxton


Atlas of Living Australia

Australian Faunal Directory

Catalog of Fishes

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

Redvelvet Whalefish, Barbourisia rufa Parr 1945


Kotlyar, A.N. 1995. Osteology and distribution of Barbourisia rufa (Barbourisiidae). Vopr. Iktiol. 35(3): 282-289. [In Russian. English transl. J. Ichthyol. 35(6)]

Parr, A.E. 1945. Barbourisidae, a new family of deep sea fishes. Copeia 1945(3): 127-129 fig. 1

Paxton, J.R. 1999. Families Gibberichthyidae, Rondeletiidae, Barbourisiidae, Cetomimidae, Mirapinnidae, Megalomycteridae, Anoplogastridae, Diretmidae. pp. 2203-2211 in Carpenter, K.E. & Niem, T.H. (eds). The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes. Rome : FAO Vol. 4 2069-2790 pp.

Paxton, J.R. 2008. Family Barbourisiidae. pp. 414 in Gomon. M.F., Bray, D.J. & Kuiter, R.H (eds). Fishes of Australia's Southern Coast. Sydney : Reed New Holland 928 pp.

Paxton, J.R. & Bray, D.J. 1986. Order Cetomimiformes. pp. 433-434 in Smith, M.M. & Heemstra, P.C. (eds). Smiths' Sea Fishes. Johannesburg : Macmillan South Africa 1047 pp.

Paxton, J.P., 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. PDF

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37134001

Depth:350-2000 m

Habitat:Mesopelagic, bathypelagic

Max Size:39 cm SL

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