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

Other Names: Australian Ghostshark, Elephant Fish, Elephant Shark, Ghost Shark, Ghostshark, Reperepe, Reperepe, Silver Fish, Southern Chimaera, 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, including spots, blotches and broad longitudinal bands along 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:
Bray, D.J. 2019, Callorhinchus milii in Fishes of Australia, accessed 22 Feb 2024, https://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/1986

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

More Info


Port Stephens, New South Wales, around southern Australia, to Esperance, Western Australia, including Tasmania. Elsewhere the species occurs in New Zealand. 

Elephantfish are 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 and Western Port in Victoria, American River on Kangaroo Island and parts of the west coast of South Australia.


Elephantfish have an elongate body, a long snout with a broad, flexible hoe-shaped snout process, two widely-separated dorsal fin a single gill opening and plate'like teeth in the jaws.. The head has a series of well-developed sensory pores and obvious mucous canals.

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 about 20 eggs over a period of several weeks each year, and the embryos 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 between 9-20 year (~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.


Bray, D.J. 2019


Atlas of Living Australia

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


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Bory de Saint-Vincent, J.B.G.M. 1823. Dictionnaire Classique d'Histoire Naturelle. Paris : Rey et Gravier Vol. 3 592 pp.

Coakley, A. 1971. The biological and commercial aspects of the elephant fish. I. The commercial fishery. New Zealand Marine Department Fisheries Technical Report 76: 25 pp.  

Coakley, A. 1973. A study in the conservation of elephant fish (Callorynchus milii, Bory) in New Zealand. New Zealand Marine Department Fisheries Technical Report 126: 22 pp.  

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

Coleman, N. & Mobley, M. 1984. Diets of commercially exploited fish from Bass Strait and adjacent Victorian waters, southeastern Australia. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 35(5): 549-560.

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.

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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. https://doi.org/10.1080/00288330.1997.9516741

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: 54 pp.

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

Kemper, J.M., Ebert , D.A. & Didier, D.A. 2015. 4 Family Callorhinchidae, pp. 38-39 in Roberts, C.D., Stewart, A.L. & Struthers, C.D. The Fishes of New Zealand. Wellington : Te Papa Press Vol. 2 pp. 1-576.

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., Scott, E.O.G. & Talbot, F.H. 1983. Fishes of Tasmania. Hobart : Tasmanian Fisheries Development Authority 563 pp. figs. (as Callorhynchus milii

Last, P.R. & Stevens, J.D. 1994. Sharks and Rays of Australia. Canberra : CSIRO Australia 513 pp. 84 pls. 

Last, P.R. & Stevens, J.D. 2009. Sharks and Rays of Australia. Collingwood : CSIRO Publishing Australia 2, 550 pp. 

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McCulloch, A.R. 1911. Report on the fishes obtained by the F.I.S. Endeavour on the coasts of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. Part 1. Zoological (Biological) Results. Endeavour 1(1): 1-87 figs 1-20 pls 1-16 (as Callorhynchus callorynchus)

Owen, R. 1852. Descriptive Catalogue of the Fossil Organic Remains of Reptilia and Pisces contained in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. London 184 pp. (as Callorhynchus australis)

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

Richardson, J. 1840. On some new species of fishes from Australia. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 8: 25-30 (as Callorhynchus tasmanius)

Scott, T.D., Glover, C.J.M. & Southcott, R.V. 1974. The Marine and Freshwater Fishes of South Australia. Adelaide : Government Printer 392 pp. figs. (as Callorhynchus milii)

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.

Stead, D.G. 1963. Sharks and Rays of Australian Seas. Sydney : Angus & Robertson 211 pp. 63 figs. (as Callorhynchus milii)

Sullivan, K.J. 1977: Age and growth of the elephant fish Callorhinchus milii (Elasmobranchii: Callorhynchidae). New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater research 11: 745-753.

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.

Waite, E.R. 1921. Illustrated catalogue of the fishes of South Australia. Records of the South Australian Museum (Adelaide) 2(1): 1-208 293 figs pl. 1 (as Callorhynchus milii)

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.

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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.

Whitley, G.P. 1939. Studies in Ichthyology No. 12. Records of the Australian Museum 20(4): 264-277 figs 1-3 

Whitley, G.P. 1940. The Fishes of Australia. Part 1. The sharks, rays, devil-fish, and other primitive fishes of Australia and New Zealand. Sydney : Roy. Zool. Soc. N.S.W. 280 pp. 303 figs. (as Callorhynchus milii)

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