Western Sooty Grunter, Hephaestus jenkinsi (Whitley 1945)

Other Names: Black Bream, Jenkins Grunter, Jenkins' Grunter, Jenkin's Sooty Grunter, Ord River Grunter, Sooty Grunter

Western Sooty Grunter, Hephaestus jenkinsi. Source: photographer unknown. License:

A pale to dark brown or greenish-grey grunter sometimes with a bronze tinge, noticeably darker scale margins, and a reddish eye with a pale line below. Juveniles have a black spot at the bases of the soft dorsal and anal fins, and irregular black lines along the sides. Adults often develop large blubbery lips.

Cite this page as:
Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2022, Hephaestus jenkinsi in Fishes of Australia, accessed 27 May 2024, https://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/692

Western Sooty Grunter, Hephaestus jenkinsi (Whitley 1945)

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Widespread in the Kimberley Region, Western Australia (absent from the King Georges River), to the Victoria River, Northern Territory. Inhabits clear to turbid waters in both still and rapidly running freshwater habitats over sand, mud, and rocky substrates.


Dorsal fin XI-XIII, 11-12; Anal fin III, 7-8; Pectoral fin 15-17; Pelvic fin I, 5; LL 46-52; Transverse scales 7-10/1/14-17; Gill rakers 5-8+1+15-18; Vertebrae 10+15.

Body moderately deep, 2.6-3.0 in SL, ovate, slightly compressed; dorsal profile more pronounced than ventral, straight or slightly convex to dorsal origin in young, more convex in adults; ventral profile nearly straight from lower lip to pelvic insertion in young, slightly convex in adults, straight from pelvic insertion to anus. Head length 2.55-2.95 in SL; snout length 2.7-3.1 in HL. Nostrils separated by a distance equal to one-half of eye diameter. Interorbital region smooth. Eye width 2.7-5.6 in HL. Jaws equal, length 2.85-3.5 in HL; gape oblique; lips fleshy, in some specimens developing fleshy pads curling posteriorly on both lips, lip flap on lower lip continuous across ventral midline; maxillary reaching to or slightly beyond vertical drawn through posterior nostril; teeth conic, recurved, with brown tips, outer row enlarged and followed by a villiform band; no teeth on vomer or palatines. Lacrimal serrate posteriorly in young, less so in adults or smooth. Preoperculum serrate; serrations larger on angle. Lower opercular spine larger and stronger; not extending beyond edge of opercular lobe. Posttemporal expanded posteriorly, exposed, serrate along posterior edge. Cleithrum exposed; posterior edge serrate; scales on side. Supracleithrum exposed.

Scales finely ctenoid; lateral line continuous, smoothly curved; 4-6 scales on caudal fin; 8-10 scales above lateral line; 15-19 scales below lateral line; 13-14 predorsal scales to occiput; 2-3 rows of scales in sheath at base of dorsal fin, sheath extending to sixth to ninth dorsal ray-, 3-4 rows of scales in sheath at base of anal fin, sheath extending to fifth anal ray; cheek scales in 6-9 rows.

Dorsal fin continuous, base 1.9-2.15 in SL; spinous portion arched; first spine short; fourth to seventh longest, 2.9-3.5 in HL; those following decreasing gradually in length to last; soft dorsal rays longer than longest dorsal spines, longest 2.22.6 in HL; soft dorsal rounded. Second anal spine strongest, 2.3-3.0 in HL, longer than third, but shorter than longest anal rays; longest anal ray 1.9-2.8 in HL; soft anal rounded. Pectoral fins asymmetrically pointed; fourth or fifth ray longest. Ventral fins pointed; first ray longest, reaching two-thirds of distance to anus. Caudal fin emarginate.


To 40cm SL, commonly to 20cm SL


Overall pale brown nearly to black, head and body darker dorsally, pale ventrally; opercular membrane darker than rest of head in many. Spinous portion of dorsal fin dusky basally, spines paler; soft dorsal with dark basal blotch and pale edge, getting darker overall with age. Spinous portion of anal fin dusky, spines paler; soft portion dusky with a paler margin, and a dark blotch near base. Caudal fin dusky, pectoral fin dusky with a dark blotch at base, pelvic fins clear to slightly dusky.


Feeds mostly on small fishes and invertebrates such as prawns.


Females lay demersal eggs that sink to the bottom. The eggs are then guarded and fanned by her male partner until the larvae hatch.


This popular angling fish is considered very good eating. 

Western Sooty Grunter (locally called Black Bream) are also a very popular with indigenous fishers and is an important food fish for indigenous Australians in the Fitzroy River River catchment of the Kimberley and the Northern Territory. Aboriginal people mostly use small Bony Bream (Nematalosa erebi) and small Spangled Perch (Leiopoterapon unicolor) as bait to catch the grunters.


Pusey et al. (2016) suggested that Hephaestus jenkinsi might be a synonym of H. fuliginosus.


The species is named for "Mr. C. F. H. Jenkins, Government Entomologist of Western Australia", who collected holotype.

Species Citation

Mesopristes jenkinsi Whitley, 1945, Aust. Zool. 11(1): 26. Type locality: Ivanhoe Station, Ord River, Western Australia.


Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2022


Atlas of Living Australia

Western Sooty Grunter, Hephaestus jenkinsi (Whitley 1945)


Allen, G.R. 1982. Inland Fishes of Western Australia.  Perth : Western Australian Museum 86 pp. 6 figs 20 pls.

Allen, G.R. 1989. Freshwater Fishes of Australia. Neptune, New Jersey : T.F.H. Publications 240 pp., 63 pls.

Allen, G.R. & Leggett, R. 1990. A collection of freshwater fishes from the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Records of the Western Australian Museum 14(4): 527-545 fig. 1

Allen, G.R., Midgley, S.H. & Allen, M. 2002. Field guide to the freshwater fishes of Australia.  Perth : Western Australian Museum 394 pp.

Brown, C. 2019. Hephaestus jenkinsi. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T122906488A123382311. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-3.RLTS.T122906488A123382311.en. Accessed on 24 September 2022.

Close, P.G., Dobbs, R.J., Tunbridge, D.J., et al. 2014. Customary and recreational fishing pressure: large-bodied fish assemblages in a tropical, intermittent Australian river. Marine and Freshwater Research 65(5): 466-474.  

Davis, A.M., Pearson, R.G., Pusey, B.J., et al. 2011. Trophic ecology of northern Australia’s terapontids: ontogenetic dietary shifts and feeding classification. Journal of Fish Biology 78: 265-286.

Davis, A.M., Unmack, P.J., Pusey, B.J., Pearson, R.G. & Morgan, D.L. 2013. Ontogenetic development of intestinal length and relationships to diet in an Australasian fish family (Terapontidae). BMC Evolutionary Biology 13: 53, 16 pp.

GiIl, H.S., Morgan, D.L., Doupe, R.G. & RowIand, A.J. 2006. The fishes of Lake Kununurra, a highly regulated section of the Ord River in northern Western Australia. Records of the Western Australian Museum 23: 1-6.

Jackson, S., Finn, M. & Featherston, P. 2013. Aquatic resource use by Indigenous Australians in two tropical river catchments: the Fitzroy River and Daly rivers. Human Ecology https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-012-9518-z

Larson, H.K. & Martin, K.C. 1990. Freshwater Fishes of the Northern Territory. Northern Territory Museum of Arts and Sciences Handbook Series Number 1.  Darwin : Northern Territory Museum of Arts and Sciences 102 pp. 73 figs.

Larson, H.K., Williams, R.S. & Hammer, M.P. 2013. An annotated checklist of the fishes of the Northern Territory, Australia. Zootaxa 3696(1): 1-293

Mees, G.F. 1971. Revisional notes on some species of the genus Therapon (Pisces : Theraponidae). Zoologische Mededelingen (Leiden) 45(20): 197-224 figs 1-6 (described as Therapon brevipinnis, type locality Hann River, Western Australia)

Merrick, J.R. & Schmida, G.E. 1984. Australian Freshwater Fishes Biology and Management. Sydney : J.R. Merrick 409 pp. figs 280 col. figs.

Morgan, D.L. 2010. Fishes of the King Edward River in the Kimberley region, Western Australia. Records of the Western Australian Museum 25: 351–368. https://doi.org/10.18195/issn.0312-3162.25(4).2010.351-368

Morgan, D.L., Cheinmora, D., Charles, A., Nulgit, P. & Kimberley Language Resource Centre. 2006. Fishes of the King Edward and Carson Rivers with their Belaa and Ngarinyin names. Centre for Fish & Fisheries Research, Murdoch University / Kimberley Language Resource Centre. 69 pp.

Morgan, D.L., Allen, M.G., Bedford, P. & Horstman, M. 2004. Fish fauna of the Fritzoy river in the Kimberley region of Western Australia - including the Bunuba, Gooniyandi, Ngarinyin, Nyikina and Walmajarri Aboriginal names. Records of the Western Australian Museum 22: 147-161.

Pusey, B.J., Bentley, A., Burrow, D., et al. 2016. Complex and contrasting evolutionary histories within the terapontid genus Hephaestus revealed by nuclear and mitochondrial genes. Marine and Freshwater Research 67(12): 1813–1825 

Pusey, B.J., Burrows, D.W., Kennard, M.J., et al. 2017. Freshwater fishes of northern Australia. Zootaxa 4253(1): 1-104.

Unmack, P.J. 2001. Biogeography of Australian freshwater fishes. Journal of Biogeography 28: 1053-1089.

Vari, R.P. 1978. The terapon perches (Percoidei, Terapontidae) a cladistic analysis and taxonomic revision. Bull. Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist. 159(5): 175–340 figs 1–94.

Whitley, G.P. 1945. New sharks and fishes from Western Australia. Part 2. The Australian Zoologist 11(1): 1-42 figs 1-15 See ref at BHL

Whitley, G.P. 1955. Taxonomic notes on fishes. Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales 1953–54: 44–57 figs 1–8

Woodward, E., Jackson, S., Finn, M. & Marrfurra McTaggert, P. 2012. Utilising indigenous seasonal knowledge to understand aquatic resource use and inform water resource management in northern Australia. Ecological Management and Restoration 13(1): 58-64. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2011.00622.x

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37321015

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Fishing:Angling fish, good eating


Max Size:40 cm SL


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