Whiptail Gulper - Oceana

Ocean Fishes

Whiptail Gulper

Saccopharynx lavenbergi


Eastern Pacific Ocean from California to Peru


Deep sea/open ocean (bathypelagic)

Feeding Habits

Ambush predator


Order Saccopharyngiformes (swallowers and gulpers), Family Saccopharyngidae (swallowers)


The whiptail gulper lives in very deep waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean from 6500 to 10,000 feet (2000-3000 m) below the sea surface. At that depth, food is scarce, and it is important to never pass up a meal when it becomes available. Some predators have long, needle-like teeth that they use to grasp lively prey, but the whiptail gulper uses its ability to swallow large prey whole to ensure that even a big meal is not too much to pass up. Vision is not particularly important for hunting in these depths, where no sunlight can reach. Consequently, the whiptail gulper’s eyes are small and rudimentary. The body is long and eel-like, and there is a light organ at the end of the very long tail, which may be used to attract prey or to attract mates.

Like most species in the deep sea, the whiptail gulper is very difficult to study and is only known from specimens that are brought up from deep nets. It has never been observed in its natural environment. For that reason, there are gaps in scientists’ knowledge about the behavior of this interesting fish. Unfortunately, it is difficult or impossible to keep this species alive in an aquarium. Based on specimens brought up during deep-sea surveys, scientists hypothesize that adult whiptail gulpers, like some salmons and other marine animals, may die after reproducing only one time.

Whiptail gulpers are not eaten by people, and there is no evidence to suggest that people have any negative affects on their populations. They are likely naturally rare, and only a few specimens are available in fish collections around the world.

Engage Youth with Sailors for the Sea

Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.

Kids Environmental Lesson Plans

Additional Resources:

Digital Fish Library