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Department of Vertebrate Zoology

Division of Fishes

Mirapinnidae, the group of fishes
that contains tapetails and hairyfishes
Sandra Raredon
© Smithsonian Institution

An Ichthyological Family Reunion

Meet the Family Members

Solving the Puzzle

Read the Scientific ArticleBiology Letters, 5(2): 235-239

First Impressions - Whalefishes

The whalefishes – or Cetomimidae – were named for the obvious whale-like shape of their bodies, and some species are known to grow to 400mm (15.7 inches) long. These fishes live at least 1000 meters (3,280 feet) below the surface of the ocean, which according to Johnson is "a part of the ocean we still know very little about."

Whalefishes
Whalefishes, formally known as Cetomimidae, come in a variety of body shapes, but feature a deep lateral line and a wide gaping mouth.
Photo credit: Kunio Amaoka, Charles Turner
Whalefishes, formally known as Cetomimidae, come in a variety of body shapes, but feature a deep lateral line and a wide gaping mouth.

A comprehensive characterization of over 500 whalefish specimens from museums all over the world was published in 1989 by John Paxton – Johnson's closest collaborator in the recent discovery. Among the unique documented characteristics of the whalefishes are a large gaping mouth, a deep lateral line (which runs along the side of the body and contains sensory organs), and a notable lack of pelvic fins and scales.

See live video of whalefish species, Cetostoma regani

Intriguingly, Paxton reported that out of the entire specimen collection, every sexually mature whalefish specimen was female. This raised more questions than it answered, but it would take a team of scientists another 20 years to explain why no male whalefishes were ever found.

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