9 Extinct Fish

Written by Kristen Holder
Updated: June 8, 2023
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Sometimes, animals are considered extinct even though there are populations in captivity that may be returned to the wild. While these animals deserve time in the spotlight, they aren’t what we’ll be focusing on. We’re going to discuss 9 fully extinct fish that have lived on the planet.

Sometimes extinction happens for one sole reason, and other times it’s a cascade of events that leads to an animal dying out. Things like drought, food scarcity, contaminated water, habitat destruction, and over-predation all work together to bring about the downfall of an entire group of animals.

A common theme among the fish extinction is that climate change and human industry are harming the sustainability of aquatic life. In the last 100 years in North America, around 82% of fish types have dwindled or gone extinct.

Let’s look at 9 of the extinct fish from our planet so we can better understand their ecology and how human activity is damaging animal life.

9 Extinct Fish

These are 9 of the extinct fish that swam on earth:

  1. Ukrainian Migratory Lamprey
  2. Silver Trout
  3. Santa Cruz Pupfish
  4. Snake River Sucker
  5. Mexican Dace
  6. New Zealand Grayling
  7. Siamese Flat-Barbelled Catfish
  8. Utah Lake Sculpin
  9. Chinese Paddlefish

1. Extinct – Ukrainian Migratory Lamprey

sea lamprey

Lampreys do not have jaws (Ukrainian migratory lamprey not shown).

©Gena Melendrez/Shutterstock.com

It was decided that this species was extinct in 2008, though the last recorded sighting was in the late 1800s. As the name implies, it was found in Ukraine. Other types of lampreys all over the world are also facing extinction for a variety of reasons.

Lampreys lack a skeleton, including jaws. They can’t use their mouths to move water across their gills so they can breathe, so they rely on the natural movement of water.

Lampreys need swift-moving water and lose embankments for breeding and survival. Things like dams for hydropower or other modifications to naturally flowing rivers hinder the life cycle of lampreys.

2. Extinct – Silver Trout

silver trout

Silver trout are a type of ray-finned char.

©Frank MacKie Johnson / public domain – License

Silver trout are a type of ray-finned char, and they’ve been extinct since 1939. They were about a foot long and olive green in color, which is surprising since silver is in their name.

Introduced invasive species finished this trout off, which was already rare on its own accord. It was endemic to a few areas of New Hampshire. Silver trout were a type of brook trout.

3. Extinct – Santa Cruz Pupfish

Human industry drove the Santa Cruz pupfish to extinction like most of our 9 extinct fish. It used to live in the Santa Cruz River basin in Arizona, but changes to this ecosystem pushed them to a natural spring called Monkey Spring. There, the introduced game fish killed the remaining pupfish.

They were declared extinct in 2011. Pupfish are known to live in isolated and extreme situations, which makes certain types of them especially vulnerable to extinction. There are 120 different species of pupfish, so we’re hopeful most will survive and carry the torch for those pupfish that have gone before them.

4. Extinct – Snake River Sucker

White Sucker Fish

This white sucker fish also spawns in gravel like the extinct Snake River sucker.

©RLS Photo/Shutterstock.com

Snake River suckers lived in the upper Snake River basin in lakes near Jackson Hole, WY. After the Jackson Lake Dam was constructed, it was found only below the dam. Presumably, it used to have a larger range than it was provided before humanization.

Suckers migrate into certain streams to spawn their young in gravel, leaving them. The interruption of these migration routes is the culprit in the extinction of this species.

5. Extinct – Mexican Dace

This dace is a minnow that was endemic to the streams and canals found in the Valley of Mexico. The Valley of Mexico is where Mexico City is located. Mexico City is the 6th largest city on the planet.

They probably disappeared almost 40 years ago. They happened to go extinct when agriculture began drying up streams and canals that the fish called home.

Mexico City’s rapid growth also led to the quick elimination of huge portions of its habitat.

6. Extinct – New Zealand Grayling

New Zealand Grayling

©Frank Edward Clarke / public domain – License

This fish’s numbers were affected by overfishing and predation by introduced trout. Even systems without these effects due to isolation saw a decline in New Zealand’s grayling populations. They’ve been gone since the 1920s.

This is attributed to a theory called source-sink dynamics. The basic idea is that a few bad habitats within a larger organism’s community will eventually degrade the whole system. This happened with the New Zealand grayling through human development like agricultural runoff and invasive predation.

7. Extinct – Siamese Flat-Barbelled Catfish

Siamese flat-barbelled catfish were native to the Bang Pakong and Chao Phraya rivers in Thailand. This catfish liked to munch on insects and shrimp. It was a smaller fish coming in at about 8 inches.

They were officially declared extinct in 2011 because no one had seen one since 1977.

8. Extinct – Utah Lake Sculpin

The skin of the Sculpin is prickly and the spines on its head and fins contain a poison. It’s easy for a fisherman to get stuck by this fish’s spines while handling it.

Sculpins are bottom dwellers (Utah Lake sculpin not shown).

©Nadezhda Malysheva/Shutterstock.com

This freshwater sculpin was endemic to Utah Lake, which is in central Utah. Utah lake is part of the system that feeds the Great Salt Lake via the Jordan River tributary. The lake itself is slightly saline due to evaporation, but it’s not anything on the scale compared to the Great Salt Lake.

Utah lake sculpins are survived by a close relative called the Bear Lake sculpin, which is endemic to a different lake in Utah. Utah lake sculpins were bottom dwellers that chowed down on invertebrates.

This species was last seen in 1928. It’s believed that shallow water from a drought coupled with a cold winter is what froze the lake more than usual. Agricultural runoff decreasing water quality is also a culprit.

9. Extinct – Chinese Paddlefish

The Chinese


was old from an evolutionary standpoint, having been the same for 200 million years.

©Natalia Belay/Shutterstock.com

It lived in the Yangtze River, but there has been no evidence of them since 2003. There are no living fish in captivity. Its closest living relative is the American paddlefish.

This fish was old from an evolutionary standpoint, having been the same for 200 million years. Human endeavors like overfishing and habitat destruction ended this fish’s long legacy on earth.

Summary of 9 Extinct Fish

NumberExtinct Fish
1Ukrainian Migratory Lamprey
2Silver Trout
3Santa Cruz Pupfish
4Snake River Sucker
5Mexican Dace
6New Zealand Grayling
7Siamese Flat-Barbelled Catfish
8Utah Lake Sculpin
9Chinese Paddlefish

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/NataliaBelay

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About the Author

Kristen Holder is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics related to history, travel, pets, and obscure scientific issues. Kristen has been writing professionally for 3 years, and she holds a Bachelor's Degree from the University of California, Riverside, which she obtained in 2009. After living in California, Washington, and Arizona, she is now a permanent resident of Iowa. Kristen loves to dote on her 3 cats, and she spends her free time coming up with adventures that allow her to explore her new home.

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