Home on the range

Ratfish are a cartilaginous, bottom-dwelling fish related to sharks and rays. They live along the Pacific coast of North America, from California to Alaska, at depths of up to 3,300 feet. In the northern part of their range, ratfish tend to live in shallower water. They are smooth and scale-less, with a dark brown and gray, white-spotted coppery coloring that allows them to better blend into their environment, such as in silt or among rocks.

Bigger girls, smaller guys
Ratfish typically spawn in the spring and summer, and are oviparous, meaning the embryos develop outside of the mother's body. Females lay two tough-skinned egg cases, made of keratin, that stick in the mud, and may take up to a year to develop. Once hatched, young ratfish are self-reliant predators. Female ratfish grow to be significantly larger than the males.
Nighttime feeders
At night, ratfish move into shallower water in search of food, locating prey by smell and with electro-receptive organs in their snout. Their green eyes reflect light, and they have two pairs of teeth in their upper jaw; one pair in their lower jaw. These teeth are flat, mineralized plates that ratfish use to cut through the shells of their prey. They eat mussels, snails, crabs and clams, as well as worms, shrimp and small, bottom-dwelling fish.
Slow swimmers
Ratfish swim by moving their large pectoral fins up and down, flapping them to propel themselves forward. Due to this unique way of swimming, they don't move as quickly as many other species of fish.
Hard to swallow
Ratfish have a venomous spine in front of their dorsal fin. The venom produced by ratfish is nonlethal to humans, but it helps the fish defend themselves against their natural predators, including lingcod, rockfish, Pacific halibut, dogfish, soupfin sharks and marine mammals such as seals. The spine is also sharp enough to potentially impale predators that try to eat them.
Populous in Puget Sound
Ratfish are very common in the Pacific Northwest, and abundant in Puget Sound. They have often been considered a nuisance, as they have little commercial value, and are frequently caught in trawl fisheries by accident due to their abundance. While ratfish are a hardy species that is not threatened, they still need a healthy environment to thrive. Keeping pollution out of Puget Sound and the ocean will help ensure their abundance for generations to come.


 Ratfish range

Quick Facts

Diet: Carnivore
Size: Up to 38 inches
Pacific halibut