Top 11 Types of Rare Fish

Written by Dana Mayor
Updated: September 19, 2022
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Key Points

  • Certain species covered here were once abundant but are now endangered.
  • Some of them possess unusual beauty such as iridescent scales or vivid colors.
  • Others possess unique distinguishing features which instantly set them apart.

Spotting a rare fish in the wild or an aquarium is a wonderful experience. These rare fish remind us that nature is capable of endless creativity. For this list, we’ve collected what many consider the rarest fish in the ocean, and we’ve included some that live in springs, rivers, and other locations.

What has made these fish so rare? In some cases, overfishing and other human interventions have caused major declines in the population of these fish. Others are rarely seen because they live in very small, specific geographic areas or ocean depths. These are places that few humans explore, which means spotting these fish is a rare occasion.

We know that it’s critical to protect these rare and often endangered fish species. Conservationists note that all these species are vital parts of their ecosystems. For aquarium owners, the delight of keeping and raising a rare beautiful fish is an enjoyable hobby. We all understand that healthy oceans, rivers, and lakes will help these rare fish recover and even thrive. Here are 11 types of rare fish and intriguing facts about each one.

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1. Ornate Sleeper Ray

This member of the ray family has bright blue colors with white spots and a fancy shape that gives the fish its name. The ornate sleeper ray (Electrolux addisoni) is native to the Eastern Cape and other coasts of South Africa. This fish was first listed as an official new ray species in 1984. There are none in captivity, and only a handful of sightings have ever been recorded. For these reasons, this fish is probably the rarest in the ocean.

2. Devil’s Hole Pupfish

This iridescent bluefish (Cyprinodon diabolis) has an unusual habitat. It lives in the Devil’s Hole, a geological formation that is part of Death Valley National Park in Nevada. Scientists believe this beautiful rare fish has lived in this formation for 10,000 to 20,000 years. It lives in small pools of water that collect in the rock. Wildlife biologists estimate there are around 200 pupfish left.

3. Eel

Types of rare fish - Eel
Moray Eel looking out from its cave. These types of rare fish are ambush predators attacking prey when they appear in front of the Morays.

©Ewa Studio/

Eels are at a considerable risk of extinction. These animals are protected by many national and international laws, but their numbers continue to decline everywhere. Eels can reach 13 feet in length and live an amazing 100 years in the wild. Despite fishing bans in many countries, eels are struggling to survive in the face of habitat pollution, oil pumping stations, and other human interventions.

4. American Paddlefish

Types of rare fish - American Paddlefish
The Mississippi Paddlefish swimming in a stream. These types of rare fish feed on plankton, microscopic plants, and animals.

©Saran Jantraurai/

The American paddlefish (Polyodon spathula) has a long snout that looks like a paddle. This strange fish is native to the Mississippi River basin of the United States. It is a primitive fish that feeds by swimming through the water with its mouth wide open and catching what it can. Its spatula-like snout makes identification easy. People who catch them face very stiff fines. Once an important commercial fish, it has declined in population and is now protected by state and national laws.

5. Peppermint Angelfish

Types of rare fish - Peppermint Angelfish
Peppermint Angelfish – (Paracentropyge boylei) in an aquarium. These types of rare fish inhabit tropical reefs and have been recorded at depths between 53 and 120 m.


This dwarf angelfish has a bright orange body and white stripes. It is an interesting, rare fish for aquarium owners who appreciate its gorgeous looks and have the money to pay for one. Because of its deep-water habitat and small size, it is very unusual to see this fish in the wild. A single peppermint angelfish (Centropyge boylei) can cost up to $20,000. This dwarf angelfish needs advanced care by an experienced aquarium keeper. In 2012, the Waikiki Aquarium in Hawaii received a peppermint angelfish valued at $30,000.

6. Twaite Shad

This fish is native to the rivers and canals of the United Kingdom. It is a member of the herring family. Although it’s a saltwater fish, it enters freshwater rivers to spawn. The twaite shad (Alosa fallax) is a priority species in the U.K Biodiversity Action Plan and is protected by international law. In the U.K., if you catch shads or eels while fishing, you must throw them back. This is due to the fact that their populations have plummeted owing to the building of dams.

The largest on record which has ever been caught was a specimen weighing 2lbs 12 oz.

Twaite shad nibble on plankton and tiny invertebrates when they are young. However, once they become adults, they make the switch to lesser sandeels, sprats, and crustaceans. They become capable of reproducing between the ages of three and seven, and unlike allis shads which they are similar to, are capable of reproducing several times.

7. Neptune Grouper

This beautiful rare fish is a high-end choice for aquarium owners who want a stunning addition to their collection. The Neptune grouper (Cephalopholis igarashiensis) lives in the ocean depths. This beautiful fish with silvery blue and yellow stripes can grow to 3 inches. Its colors and graceful movements make it a truly rare find. The Neptune grouper can cost more than $4,500 for a single fish, and finding one for sale is extremely difficult.

8. Red Handfish

The red handfish (Brachionichthys hirsutus) gets its name from its two appendages that look like human hands. Small in size, this fish has reddish scales and a wide, funny-looking face. This unusual fish is so rare that conservationists thought it was extinct, but a diver discovered a small colony of handfish off the coast of Australia. There may be fewer than 100 of these fish left alive, making the red handfish one of the rarest fish in the world.

9. Bluefin Tuna

Types of rare fish - Bluefin Tuna
Bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), saltwater fish in the Mediterranean. This type of rare fish is a fierce predator that feeds on herring, mackerel, and other ocean fish.


The bluefin tuna (Thnnus thynnus) can dive deeper than 3,000 feet in search of food. This large, fast fish is a fierce predator that feeds on herring, mackerel, and other ocean fish. The bluefin tuna is the sixth most threatened species in the world. That includes all species, not just fish. Overfishing and habitat destruction have decimated the numbers of this once-abundant ocean fish. Conservation efforts have focused on better regulation of commercial tuna fishing.

10. Tequila Splitfin

This tiny fish only has one habitat. The tequila splitfin (Zoogeneticus tequila) lives in a small pool that’s part of the Teuchitlan River in Mexico. Like some of the other fish on our list, conservationists assumed this fish was extinct, but a small group was found in 2005. Since then, concerted conservation efforts and captive breeding have helped its population grow. Although several hundred fish were returned to the pool, it is still an extremely rare fish.

11. Giant Sea Bass

Types of rare fish - Giant Sea Bass
Giant Sea Bass, also known as the goliath grouper, in an aquarium. These types of rare fish prefer to live in shallow water close to coastlines.

©eril Victory/

This member of the bass family is remarkable for its sheer size, which makes identification of it easy. The giant sea bass (Stereolepis gigas) can grow 7 feet in length and weigh more than 700 pounds. It prefers to live in shallow water close to coastlines. This massive fish was once abundant in the waters of California, but overfishing destroyed its population by the 1950s. All sport and commercial fishing of the giant sea bass is illegal, and it is protected by national and international law.

List of Rare Fish

#1Ornate Sleeper Ray
#2Devil’s Hole Pupfish
#4American Paddlefish
#5Peppermint Angelfish
#6Twaite Shad
#7Neptune Grouper
#8Red Handfish
#9Bluefin Tuna
#10Tequila Splitfin
#11Giant Sea Bass

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Types of rare fish
Peppermint Angelfish - (Paracentropyge boylei)

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I love good books and the occasional cartoon. I am also endlessly intrigued with the beauty of nature and find hummingbirds, puppies, and marine wildlife to be the most magical creatures of all.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is the rarest fish?

Conservationists believe the ornate sleeper ray may be the rarest of all fish species in the ocean, but the red handfish is probably a close second. The Devil’s Hole pupfish and tequila splitfin may be the rarest freshwater fishes in the world.

Keep in mind that the identification of ocean species is ongoing, and biologists still have not named all the fish species.

What makes these fish rare?

It’s important to know the facts behind the status of a rare fish. Some of these fish are rare simply because they’re difficult to find. They may not be endangered, but it is very unusual to see one because they live where few humans ever go. Others are rare because their populations have decreased from overfishing and water pollution.

What is the most beautiful rare fish?

Many people agree that the Neptune grouper and the peppermint angelfish are among the most beautiful types of rare fish. Both have bright, unusual colors and graceful shapes.

Where can you buy a rare fish for aquarium use?

Most of these rare fish are sold through private sellers. If you are an aquarium hobbyist, you can ask other aquarium keepers about the care, feeding, and facts related to these fish.

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