Like the Bonefish, the Sand Whiting moves across shallow, sandy expanses in groups, browsing for worms and crustaceans in the sand. Both have a slightly underslung mouth, which is used to burrow and suck up sand in the search for tasty morsels like sand worms, pipis, nippers and crabs. And like the Bonefish, the Sand Whiting puts up an impressive fight when hooked, often belying its size. If Whiting reached the size that Bonefish do, they might well be compared even more favourably with that legendary species. The name ‘Sand Whiting’ may not be all that familiar to the average anglers in some areas, since the species also goes under the wellknown local names of Summer Whiting and Bluenose Whiting. Many anglers think that these are different species, but they are all, in fact, one and the same. By the way, as is often the case with common names for Australian fish, our Whitings are not related in any way to the northern hemisphere Whiting, which is a member of the true Cod family, nor to the Blue Grenadier of New Zealand, sometimes marketed in supermarkets here under the name ‘Whiting’ but again, belonging to an unrelated family, Merluccidae, or Hakes. The Whiting family, Sillaginidae, is largely confined to southeast Asia and Australia, and as such, can be justifiably considered a ‘local’ group of fishes. About 13 species of Whiting occur around the Australian coast, some of which are commercially or even more so, recreationally important. The main species of interest to anglers are the Sand Whiting, Sillago ciliata, Trumpeter Whiting (Sillago maculata), Yellowfin Whiting, Sillago schomburgkii in Western Australia and King George Whiting, Sillaginodes punctata, in the southern states. Another group of Whitings, all loosely called Redspot or Trawl Whiting, do not grow very large, but are an important bycatch species of prawn trawling in the north. All of the Whitings share fairly similar habitats, primarily over sandy bottoms, where they forage for small invertebrates.
The main species with which the Sand Whiting might be confused with is the Trumpeter Whiting, which grows to a respectable 30 cm in length. However, Trumpeter Whiting tend to have dark, diffuse reddish blotches on their flanks while Sand Whiting are a uniform silver colour. The distribution of the Sand Whiting is very broad, ranging all the way from Cape York in Queensland to Lakes Entrance in Victoria. It is also found around Flinders Island and the north eastern Tasmanian coast, around south eastern Papua New Guinea and perhaps surprisingly, Lord Howe Island and New Caledonia. Not a great deal is known about movements of Sand Whiting throughout this extensive range. Some tagging has indicated relatively limited movements north and south along the east coast, but as yet, no movements of adults has been proven between the Australian mainland, and the islands mentioned above. It is quite likely that dispersal to those areas is achieved by larvae. Because of its distribution right along the eastern seaboard, the Sand Whiting is particularly important to anglers. Its shallow water habitat makes it a primary target species around populated areas such as Brisbane and Sydney, and also in most of the east coast estuaries and large embayments. Harvey Bay is a prime example of the latter. Sand Whiting spawn in a variety of habitats, ranging from the mouths of estuaries, large embayments and the surf zone along ocean beaches. However, contrary to popular belief, they do not spawn inside estuaries, but rather, very small post larvae and juveniles enter estuaries where they are often observed amongst seagrass beds or over shallow sandy areas. Spawning is apparently triggered at peak high tide, close to the full moon. The spawning season varies with latitude, spanning spring and summer in Queensland and summer and Autumn in New South Wales. The ovaries of mature Sand Whiting contain two distinct
batches of eggs, leading to the likelihood of spawning twice during a given season. The numbers of eggs which have been counted in Sand Whiting range between 30,000 and 380,000. Some work has been carried out on Sand Whiting investigating the possibility of the species for aquaculture – either as a prospect for harvest for the table, or as a species which might be able to be stocked into estuaries to replace depleted stocks. As with many other coastal fishes, the growth rate of Sand Whiting has been found to be quite variable (this often depends on water temperature, but also on availability of food and frequency of feeding). In Queensland, one-year old Sand Whiting are estimated to be between 11 and 19 cm in length, while six-year olds would measure about 32 cm. Age at maturity is estimated to be two years old for males, and three years old for females. Like quite a few other species of fish, males dominate the population at small sizes, but larger fish tend to be female. It is not yet known if this is due to sex reversal or differential growth and mortality rates between the two sexes. The maximum length of Sand Whiting recorded is supposedly a whopping 51 cm, at which size, an age of up to 20 years is postulated. No weight was given for that fish, and just to complicate the story, the Australian angling record for the species stands at 1.4 kg, but no length is given for that fish. The Sand Whiting really does tick all the boxes. Not only is it an excellent sportfish on light tackle and fly gear, it is one of the tastiest species available to the keen inshore angler.