Animals -> Fish -> Saltwater Fish -> Chimaeras


Archeological remains identifying human use found spotted ratfish from Oregon to Alaska [5].The Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw) and Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth) of Vancouver Island were reported to have eaten spotted ratfish [1, 2]. The Coast Tsimshian may have eaten them and/or used the strong teeth of the fish. On the other hand, since the reproductive organs of spotted ratfish are reported to be venomous, these fish may not have been consumed [3]. The Coast Salish used ratfish as a resource, but it is unclear if they were eaten [4]. The Nootka of Vancouver Island caught spotted ratfish on sandy and muddy bottoms [1].

The Coast Salish and Coast Tsimshian extracted oil from spotted ratfish liver [3, 4]. The Coast Salish rendered the oil by placing the livers in a container of water, adding hot stones to boil the water, and skimming the oil that rose to the surface. The oil was stored in a seal stomach and used internally to treat colds and store throats, and externally to treat earaches. It was also rubbed on newborn’s skin to “draw out offensive odors” and to maintain its softness. It was mixed with the black pitch of the hemlock tree and rubbed on the scalp to prevent gray hair in old age [4]. Some Coast Tsimshian informants claimed that the oil was used to treat arthritis [3].

The Coast Salish named the ratfish “Indian doctor” because in their tradition, when it was changed from a man to a fish, “he” was told by the Transformer that “he was going to be medicine for the coming people”. Its “power” as an “Indian doctor” is reported to be because of its frontal spine, which is considered poisonous [4].


1.         Arima E, Dewhirst J: Nootkans of Vancouver Island. In: Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 7: Northwest Coast. edn. Edited by Suttles W. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1990: 391-397.

2.         Mitchell D: Prehistory of the Coasts of Southern British Columbia and Northern Washington. In: Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 7: Northwest Coast. edn. Edited by Suttles W. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1990: 340-358.

3.         Stewart FL: The Seasonal Availability of Fish Species Used by the Coast Tsimshians of Northern British Columbia. Syesis 1975, 8:375-388.

4.         Bouchard R, Kennedy DID: Utilization of fishes, beach foods, and marine mammals by the Tl'uhus Indian People of British Columbia. In.: British Columbia Indian Language Project; 1974.

5.       McKechnie I, Moss ML: Meta-analysis in zooarchaeology expands perspectives on Indigenous fisheries of the Northwest Coast of North America Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 2016, 8:470-85.

Chimaeras are a family of awkwardly shaped saltwater fish most often occupying deep oceans. In North America, chimaeras include the spotted ratfish (Hydrolagus colliei), occurring along the Pacific coast, from Alaska to Mexico.

The spotted ratfish has a tapering body towards the rear and a long, pointed tail. They have sharp spines on their dorsal fins. Spotted ratfish are poor swimmer and are most often found along the bottom and feed mainly on mollusks, crustaceans, and other fish. 


"Hydrolagus colliei Lay and Bennett, 1839." []


Images provided below were obtained from: Encyclopedia of Life. Available from
Spotted ratfish
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This map is based on occurrence records available through the GBIF network