Pelican Eel, Eurypharynx pelecanoides Vaillant 1882

Other Names: Big-mouth Gulper, Deep-sea Gulper Eel, Gulper Eel, Pelican Fish, Pelican Gulper, Pelican Gulper Fish, Umbrellamouth Gulper

Pelican Eel, Eurypharynx pelecanoides from off southern NSW. Source: Ken Graham. License: All rights reserved


A bizarre deep-water eel with an enormous mouth, extremely long jaws, pore-like gill openings and a very expandable pharynx and stomach. Pelican eels lack scales and are covered in black velvety skin. They have a very long tapering compressed tail tipped with a small pinkish light organ. The skull is tiny in comparison with the huge mouth and jaws.

Pelican Eels live in the deep oceanic midwaters and mostly feed on deep-sea crustaceans captured in their huge mouths.

Amazing footage of a juvenile Gulper Eel ballooning its enormous pharynx and swallowing its prey. This video was filmed by the E/V Nautilus in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the central North Pacific Ocean, on 19 September 2018. 

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2018, Eurypharynx pelecanoides in Fishes of Australia, accessed 29 May 2024,

Pelican Eel, Eurypharynx pelecanoides Vaillant 1882

More Info


Known in Australian waters from off the Northwest shelf, Western Australia, and from off Townsville, Queensland, to south of Maatsuyker Island, Tasmania; also in the Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island regions of the Tasman Sea.

Elsewhere, the species is widespread in tropical and temperate regions of all oceans; in mid-waters to 3000m.


Dorsal fin 155–196; Anal fin 118–147; Pectoral fin about 11; Vertebrae 101–113.

Body elongate, mostly comprised of the mouth and greatly expandable pharynx, distance from tip of snout to angle of jaw 18–24% TL; small eyes close to snout tip; teeth in jaws tiny and numerous.

Trunk relatively deep, tail region elongate, slender, compressed, caudal fin absent, tail ending in a small luminous caudal organ.

Pectoral fin reduced, low on side just behind gill opening; scales absent, body covered in soft black velvety skin; lateral line present but without pores.


To 75 cm TL


Body covered in black velvety skin, with a  tiny pinkish light organ on the tip of the tail.


Feeds on a variety of mesopelagic and bathypelagic prey including crustaceans, fishes and squid, by engulfing them in the enormous mouth.


The larvae are described by Smith (1989). 

This species is sexually dimorphic, with males developing a large, knob-like nasal rosette. (Gartner 1983).


Of no interest to fisheries.


IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Least Concern.


The light organ at the tail tip may lure predators to attack the least vulnerable part of the Pelican Eel's body (Smith 2008).


The species is named pelecanoides for its huge mouth that expands like that of a pelican. 

Species Citation

Eurypharynx pelecanoides Vaillant 1882, C. R. Hebd. Séances Acad. Sci. 95: 1226. Type locality: off Morocco, 29°52'N, 11°44'W, 2300m.


Bray, D.J. 2018


Australian Faunal Directory

Pelican Eel, Eurypharynx pelecanoides Vaillant 1882


Charter, S.R. 1996. Eurypharyngidae: umbrellamouth gulpers. p. 155-157. In H.G. Moser (ed.) The early stages of fishes in the California Current region. California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations Atlas No. 33. Allen Press, Inc., Lawrence, Kansas. 1505 p.

Gartner Jr., J.V. 1983. Sexual Dimorphism in the Bathypelagic Gulper Eel Eurypharynx pelecanoides (Lyomeri: Eurypharyngidae), with Comments on Reproductive Strategy. Copeia 1983(2): 560-563.

Inoue, J.G., Miya, M., Tsukamoto, K., & M. Nishida. 2003. Evolution of the deep-sea gulper eel mitochondrial genomes: Large-scale gene rearrangements originated within the eels. Molecular Biology and Evolution 20: 1917-1924.

Iwamoto, T. 2015. Eurypharynx pelecanoides. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T18227119A42691734. Downloaded on 21 September 2018.

Nielsen, J.G. 2015. 48 Family Eurypharyngidae, pp. 296-297, in Roberts, C.D., Stewart, A.L. & Struthers, C.D. (eds) The Fishes of New Zealand. Wellington : Te Papa Press Vol. 2 pp. 1-576.

Nielsen, J.G., Bertelsen, E. & Jespersen, A. 1989. The biology of Eurypharynx pelecanoides (Pisces, Eurypharyngidae). Acta Zoologica (Stockholm) 70(3): 187-197

Nielsen, J.G. & Bertelsen, E. 1990. Eurypharyngidae. 206 in Quéro, J.-C., Hureau, J.-C., Karrer, C., Post, A. & Saldanha, L. (eds). Check-list of the Fishes of the Eastern Tropical Atlantic. Paris : UNESCO 1492 pp., 3 vols.

Paxton, J.R., J.E. Gates & D.F. Hoese 2006. Families Cyematidae, Eurypharyngidae and Saccopharyngidae. pp. 304-307 in Beesley, P.L. & Wells, A. (eds). Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Volume 35 Australia : ABRS & CSIRO Publishing Parts 1-3 2178 pp.

Smith, D.G. 1989. Family Eurypharyngidae (pp. 948-954). In Böhlke, E.B. (ed.) 1989. Fishes of the Western North Atlantic. Mem. Sears Found. Mar. Res. 1(9): 1–1055 (2 volumes).

Smith, D.G. 1999. Families Colocongridae, Derichthyidae, Muraenesocidae, Nemichtyhyidae, Congridae, Nettastomatidae, Serrivomeridae, Cyematidae, Saccopharyngidae, Eurypharyngidae, Monognathidae. pp. 1670-1697 in Carpenter, K.E. & Niem, V.H. (eds). The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes. Rome : FAO Vol. 3 1397-2068 pp.

Smith, D.G. 2008. Family Eurypharyngidae. pp. 182 in Gomon. M.F., Bray, D.J. & Kuiter, R.H (eds). Fishes of Australia's Southern Coast. Sydney : Reed New Holland 928 pp.

Vaillant, L.L. 1882. Sur un poisson des grandes profondeurs de l'Atlantique, l'Eurypharynx pelecanoides. Comptes Rendus (Hebdomadaires) des Séances de l'Academie des Sciences. Série D. Sciences Naturelles 95: 1226-1228

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37079001

Biology:Bioluminescent tail tip

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Depth:500-3000+ m

Habitat:Mesopelagic, bathypelagic, benthopelagic

Max Size:75 cm TL

Species Image Gallery

Species Maps

CAAB distribution map