Black scabbardfish (Aphanopus carbo)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.Map Help



The black scabbardfish Aphanopus carbo is very elongate and slender species that may reach up to 1.1 m in length. The leading rays of its dorsal, anal and pelvic fins have conspicuous spines characteristic of all perciform fish. Scabbardfish are easily recognisable by their distinct body form. The body is very long and is deepest just behind the head, tapering gradually to a narrow tail. A continuous dorsal and anal fin are present at the posterior end of the body. The tail fin is small and forked. The snout is large and has strong fang-like teeth. It is a coppery black colour with an iridescent tint. The inner mouth and inner gill cavities are black.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Found deep off the west coasts of Scotland and the Atlantic coasts of Ireland.

Global distribution



The black scabbardfish is a bathypelagic species inhabiting continental slopes from depths of 200 m to over 1500 m. It often migrates further up the water column at night.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Very elongate body up to 1.1 m in length.
  • Body tapers towards a narrow tail with a small forked tail fin.
  • One continuous dorsal and anal fin running along the posterior end.
  • Large dark snout with conspicuous teeth.
  • Pelvic fins absent in the adult.

Additional information

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  1. Bone, Q., 1971. On the scabbard fish Aphanopus carbo. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 51, 219-225

  2. Froese, R. & Pauly, D., 2007. Fishbase. A global information system on fishes. [On-line], 2008-02-18

  3. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E., 1997. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication, no. 276.]

  4. Nakamura, I. & Parin, N.V., 1993. FAO species catalogue. Vol. 15. Snake mackerels and cutlassfishes of the world (families Gempylidae and Trichiuridae). FAO Fisheries Synopsies, 125

  5. Whitehead, P.J.P., Bauchot, M.-L., Hureau, J.-C., Nielson, J. & Tortonese, E. 1986. Fishes of the North-eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Vol. I, II & III. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).


  1. NBN (National Biodiversity Network) Atlas. Available from:

  2. OBIS (Ocean Biodiversity Information System),  2024. Global map of species distribution using gridded data. Available from: Ocean Biogeographic Information System. Accessed: 2024-05-21


This review can be cited as:

Barnes, M.K.S. 2008. Aphanopus carbo Black scabbardfish. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 21-05-2024]. Available from:

Last Updated: 22/05/2008